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Old 12-16-2007, 02:40 PM   #1
mrkai
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Discussion: eBook Publishing Model proposals

As an offshoot from a rather..heated tangent on another thread, this thread s being created to propose and promote practical publishing models for eBooks given current market and technological conditions.

So let's do that. Some ground rules:

1. We are working on the assumption that we are discussing selling books to people that wish to buy them. As such, accusation and/or labeling of anyone engaged in the discussion as a "pirate" is strictly forbidden and out of bounds.

Further, anyone engaging in such will be branded as a violator of "MrKai's Law" which is mobileread's version of "Godwin's Law" as it was dubbed by Nate the Great, here. Massive heaping of shame upon the guilty is to be allowed and encouraged

2. Any discussion of Digital Rights Management is to be of a technical nature, not a political one. This includes slurs such as "Digital Restrictions Management" and "Freeloaders". Again, we are talking about buyers and sellers, and the participants are assumed to be producers/vendors customers.

3. This is not Sunday School, Philosophy 101, Plato or the Free Software Foundation. We aren't looking to discuss morality or "morality" or law or "law". If you are a lawyer...fine. But I mean real lawyers. Please state where you are allowed to practice law so that the participants are aware of where these laws apply.

4. Publishers and authors are encouraged to participate. Assuming the above 3 points can be adhered to.

I fully expect this to be either a productive and educational discussion...or a completely dead one due to the limitations outlined above

Last edited by mrkai; 12-16-2007 at 02:56 PM.
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Old 12-17-2007, 02:41 AM   #2
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I think "improving" ebook publishing will fall into 4 areas that can be summed up as "making it easier".

1. Price. You may be tempted to say cheap, Cheap, CHEAP. However, I think its more accurate to find a price that's considered fair, which might not be the cheapest. (An illustrating tangent: Those who have been around Baen's Bar for a long time will remember the OLD price for Webscriptions. Barflies were worried that the price for webscriptions were too low to give an adequate royalty to the authors, especially if buying the webscription might replace buying a paper copy. Jim Baen had originally started the Webscription program as an advertising expense (which REALLY worked, by the way) to drive pre-orders of books. After kicking around the idea, the monthly webscription price increased a couple of bucks, apparently with very mild grumbling and much more acclaim. We want our authors to be happy with the webscription sales!)

If the price is high enough that you look elsewhere, then not only have you encouraged the darknet, but you may induce those you are are spending their discretionary funds to spend elsewhere. Eric Flint keeps saying "we're competing for their BEER money, folks". Conversely, if the price is cheap enough, you're tempted to buy it just to try it, because you don't feel cheated. (Freqently observed Webscription comment- "I'd spend that much just for the Flint and the Weber; now who's this new author included in the package?")

2. Ease of use. Is the ebook easy to use? DRM hurts here, even if only because it forces you look for the correct file. Even in drm-free forms, it really helps to have a file available in the format needed. Yes, it's good to have a format that can be flexibly transformed, but, as an author (or publisher) wouldn't you rather have at least the first suggestion for how you'd like it to look? I have a Rocket, and a bunch of people download one or another version and then convert to rb format. I find it easy (enough) to just use the rb versions that Baen makes available. I might change that pattern when I finally buy an eInk device, but I'd at least try the native-format first.

Similarly, bad text formatting or grammar errors (compared to print versions, anyway) detract from ease of use. A file format that specifies too small of font. Improperly displayed umlauts and such in foreign names. Anything that makes you start to think "I could do better than that!"

3. Ease of Finding. This might be MUCH more important than you might think. Eric Flint (boy, he makes a lot of quotable remarks, doncha think?) frequently challenges people to find his books for free. Then pay attention to how LONG it took you to find and download, compared to just paying for it at Baen, as well as the effort to get it into the right format, and possibly correct scanning mistakes.

I pay attention to Fictionwise, since they're happy to send me a list every week of the books they are adding. Much less frequently, I go back and browse through the categories to find something older, because its a bit more of a pain. On the other hand, I find it almost excruciating to find publishing info for the various imprints under the Penguin brand, let alone whether they even HAVE an ebook version. I think their website is impossibly difficult, and it's almost too much work to find the old DAW and ACE imprints.

The bottom line is to make it so much easier to FIND the legal ebook to purchase, that it becomes a pain to go elsewhere. This might take extra effort from a publisher to make sure search engines will find your author's books on your site. And make sure it's easy to find a list of what you've published this month and what you're going to publish in the next month or two!

4. Service and customer interaction. This might also cover some of the "value added" features on the other thread. One of the reasons Baen is so passionately defended, is that the Baen's Bar community interacts with *most* of the authors and the publisher regularly. It's sometimes fun to find out that Ringo is have trouble coming up with a proper name for an upcoming book (at least one that isn't vaguely pornographic), or how many places Joe Buckley has been red-shirted, and we've been downhearted about the recent death of Toni's husband. Questions tend to get answered quickly, even if the answer is "that's still under negotiation". Maybe other publishers have similar online communities, but at least in the SF field, I haven't found them on the publisher's website.


In summary: If we can get online publishers to make improvements in any or all of these areas, I think their sales will improve, and their "non-sales" will decrease, at least in proportion.
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Old 12-17-2007, 09:23 AM   #3
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I agree with Darqref's points, and would like to add another:

Exposure. Presently, most people out there don't even know what an e-book is (or, at least, before Amazon most people didn't. Now, I'd guess a few more people have figured it out). However, most booksellers do not make a big effort to advertise e-books, and few authors or publishers make sure they add "available in e-book too!" to their ad copy.

In addition, those authors (like me) who do not have Big Publishers' contracts have a hard time getting recognized outside of their limited number of groups of influence. There are some great e-book only authors out there, but it is hard to find them past the smoke and noise that is the mainline sellers and publishers. And online promotion, without serious funds, is a lot like whispering in the middle of a rock concert.

Finally, there needs to be better outreach, so to speak, to the potential market for e-books, which includes anyone who uses computers, PDAs, smartphones and Blackberries, not just dedicated hardware. And many of those people need help to get over the idea that "it is impossible" to seriously read a book on anything as small as a PDA, so they won't be deterred from checking out e-books based on the fact that they don't have over $300 to burn for a dedicated device.

So, Exposure on essentially three fronts: Availability, choices, and readability.
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Old 12-17-2007, 10:02 AM   #4
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How to Win at eBooks if you are "Big Publishing" by MrKai

My general thinking here is one of (re)-education, from the publisher/content provider side. I believe (and this can be witnessed in quite a few excerpts and transcripts of several articles, keynotes and symposia of/from the industry) that while they are "aware" of the mistakes the music, and to a degree, the movie industry has made in attempting to deal with the digital chaos, don't quite "get it"; they are doomed to fail the same way, because they are concerned about essentially the wrong group of people.

Those people are people that aren't going to buy what they are selling, under any circumstances...ever.

Sound familiar?

Specifically I believe, in light of the above, they should clone The One Model That Has Worked: Apple's.

While Apple's iPod/iTMS model is not perfect, its pretty damned good and has eclipsed all comers. The biggest problem I see with it/have with it is that it is not web-based, and as such excludes buyers that don't use Windows or Mac OS X...however this has changed with the iPhone and the iPod Touch.

The positive points I will outline below and follow each with what publishers could do with ebooks that would be akin to Apple's music offering:

1. A "good enough" reader that is inexpensive, sleek and simple to use. The iPods are not the most feature-filled DAPs out there, but have the right size/price/feature/simplicity ratio.

An equivalent reader device to be "iPod-like" in the above ways should be a bit smaller than the 505, have the same amount of buttons (less than Kindle, more than Gen3) but allow for text entry via a T9-like method or the typical phone texting method (this gets you lookups/notes but allows you to have less keys and a smaller form factor), OTA buying - but via Wi-Fi (keeps costs down...but eliminates the computer requirement) and an eInk screen that is smaller (3/4 Sony/Kindle/Gen3) in both dimensions to get more per run and keep the overall unit cost down. Target price should be $200.

2. iTMS tracks can be used on as many iPods as one owns.

If the owner of our reader chooses to use it with a computer and do their purchase this way, they should be allowed to put their books on as many readers as they plug into their machine. If the reader is plugged into another machine, the books can't be (easily) transferred off and if they are, they must then be "authorized" this new machine.

Its a limitation, but one that most people won't run into. It doesn't stop the hardcore pirate types, but nothing will. Its a gentle reminder in the "keeping you honest" category. Its "fair".

3. iTMS tracks have uniform pricing and one set of "rights"

This has been a sticking point for the music biz, but I think we can be a bit more flexible with books...assuming there is a minimal baseline set of "rights" across the whole price range.

What screwed the other digital music stores was a quagmire of stupid limitations across tracks...some on the same album...utter insanity. For the flat price of X, some tracks could only be streamed(?!), some could not be played on a portable device, some could not be burned to CD...some had none of these restrictions...some all.

A successful eBook venture will avoid this foolishness. History has shown that it is fraught with implication, doomed to failure and pisses customers off. Its not "better than free" and drives them towards "free". We don't want to do that.

4. All iTMS tracks can be backed up to data cd, and burned to music cd to play on any cd player

Many people overlook this very crucial feature as a "killer" one, but on a psychological level its a deal-maker. It adds value to the customer instantly and gives them a sense that they have purchased something "tangible". They "own the music" because they can protect it from data loss and have the added value of being able to have something they can not only "hold in their hand" but use and enjoy practically anywhere.

How do we do this with an eBook then? Simple. Allow the printing of one copy. You burn your own paper and ink, it costs us (the publishers) nothing.

"Ah...hang on there a minute skippy!" the horrified publisher exclaims. "If we do THAT then it makes it easier to pirate!!!"

Does it really? Let's look at this a bit closer.

Remember...we cannot beat the "hardcore"...this is a given. We want to help honest folk stay honest. We can do this by simply printing the book as a bitmap. This way, even if some clever bastard thinks "Bwahahaha...I can print to PDF and extract the text"...there isn't any.

If they want to be really...paranoid about it, build the printing into the device and not the desktop...or do like the USPS does and Print from the web. Even if its spooled...its a bitmap.

I'm a software engineer...and a damned clever guy, that has "walked with darkness" enough to know how to think around it, in case you were wondering how some yahoo on the 'net could come up with this and not the brightest minds in the publishing biz

Additionally, this method also puts our printed ebook on even footing with a publisher printed one in terms of the pirate horde...they are gonna have to retype it (introducing possible errors) or ocr it (same). We have made a "lossy" copy because it is not going to be as nicely bound...at least not on our dime and our labor

Like our burned iTMS tracks, this give the buyer that "tangible" safety net. They "own the book". We (the buyer) lose nothing. They (the publisher) lose nothing. Win-Win. I like...win-win outcomes

5. Some iTMS tracks are higher quality, and are "DRM-free".

Apple sells some tracks (One major label, many indie labels) in higher quality than standard tracks. Initially, these tracks were priced at a premium. I say, let the book publishers have this. if they want to add extra content and sell for a bit more feel free...as long as these "Ultra Premium" eBooks are "DRM-free".

I put "DRM-free" in quotes here because while iTunes Plus tracks don't have the restriction that that can only be played on iPods and authorized computers, they are watermarked. This is what is being termed as "Social DRM"...each iTunes Plus track has the account name of the person that originally bought them embedded into the track.

Now, I honestly don't think this is doable with eBooks, sadly because there isn't a way to make an eBook that can be read on "anything" that could embed this info in such a way that removing it either destroys the eBook (editing the iTunes file to change the personalization makes it unplayable) or by making it lossy and lesser quality (you can re-import Plus tracks to get rid of the personalization, but they sound worse).

So we'll have to give the publishers a pass on this.

I think tho, even without item 5, do the rest and we have a winner on our hands. From the business side and the buyer side.

They get their "DRM"...we get "DRM" that effective is not going to rob an honest buyer of what they paid for by shackling it to death, making it not even "worth paying for"...not "better than free".

Last edited by mrkai; 12-17-2007 at 10:11 AM. Reason: Replaced Typonese with Standard English; made sexier.
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Old 12-17-2007, 10:14 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mrkai View Post
My general thinking here is one of (re)-education, from the publisher/content provider side. I believe (and this can be witnessed in quite a few excerpts and transcripts of several articles, keynotes and symposia of/from the industry) that while they are "aware" of the mistakes the music, and to a degree, the movie industry has made in attempting to deal with the digital chaos, don't quite "get it"; they are doomed to fail the same way, because they are concerned about essentially the wrong group of people.

Those people are people that aren't going to buy what they are selling, under any circumstances...ever.

Sound familiar?

*Specifically* I believe, in light of the above, they should clone The One Model That Has Worked: Apple's.

SNIP
I agree with the above quoted, all except for one word... "Apple's."

I'm a Mac-head. A Mac fan-boy from waaaaaay back. I even think that Apple's model would probably work. But it's the wrong example for this market.

In the book market, "The One Model That Has Worked" is... Baen's, not Apple's. In particular, it's a model that has worked for a content provider. Apple is a device seller. The other publishers are a lot more like Baen than they are like Apple. Push Apple's model at them, and they'll view themselves in the role of the music labels, not in the Apple role. That's bad, 'cause it pushes them away from what we want, not towards it.

But with Baen as an example... Here's a publisher making more off of eSales than from all international sales combined. They don't have a piracy problem -- even with NYT best-sellers. And they're another content provider, not a device-maker/seller. That's an example that resonates the right way, not the wrong way (for publishers, that is). And it's at least as good for consumers, too.

Xenophon
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Old 12-17-2007, 10:16 AM   #6
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Believe it or not...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Darqref View Post
2. Ease of use. Is the ebook easy to use? DRM hurts here, even if only because it forces you look for the correct file. Even in drm-free forms, it really helps to have a file available in the format needed. Yes, it's good to have a format that can be flexibly transformed, but, as an author (or publisher) wouldn't you rather have at least the first suggestion for how you'd like it to look? I have a Rocket, and a bunch of people download one or another version and then convert to rb format. I find it easy (enough) to just use the rb versions that Baen makes available. I might change that pattern when I finally buy an eInk device, but I'd at least try the native-format first.
....while I'm not a fan of DRM per se, I don't think you can "sell it" to Big Publishers without something that passes for it.

I think if its limited to "discouraging of casual copying" as opposed to "practically useless since you can't enjoy reading the damned book" its a "win-win".

We want them to sell us books so we have to look at "their side" too.
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Old 12-17-2007, 10:21 AM   #7
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Can you print NYT bestseller's from what Baen sells?

I'm looking at an end-to-end system here.

The problem with the Ebooks is, well, look.

Amazon has a MASSIVE amount of stock. None of it happens to work on my reader...and i dont think my reader, nor amazon's for that matter with the current price structure is gonna get anywhere near "ubiquitous"...so my model deals with pervasive portable readers.

We..sooooo don't have quality pervasive portable readers And while Baen might be sucessful...I'm pretty sure publishers are looking for a scale and scope much greater...volume, you know
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Old 12-17-2007, 10:31 AM   #8
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Ummm...heheh..no offense here but...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Xenophon View Post
I
But with Baen as an example... Here's a publisher making more off of eSales than from all international sales combined. They don't have a piracy problem -- even with NYT best-sellers.

I didn't see a single author I recognized in the whole of Baen's very small catalog.

I think this is what I'd call a "big tell".
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Old 12-17-2007, 11:09 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mrkai View Post
I didn't see a single author I recognized in the whole of Baen's very small catalog.

I think this is what I'd call a "big tell".
I don't recognize most of the authors on the NYT Bestseller List, but evidently somebody thinks they're worth buying -- even if it's just those who buy what's on that list.

The point of exposure has been made above, obscurity is the great enemy of every author. I think that the fact that there is little or no piracy of a book on the NYT Bestseller List is pretty remarkable in and of itself. Especially when the book can be purchased as an un-DRMed e-file for a measly six bucks.

That is how I interpret Xenophon's point, anyway.

An interesting comparison point might be to look at the level of piracy on the NYT Bestseller List as a whole (especially the ones that have no e-version at all), if the list is generally free from piracy, then the whole point is pretty moot.



That being said, I think that another issue is accesibility, and I think the biggest obstacle there is the tower of e-babel. A single "standard" format that everyone sold in and used would eliminate the vast majority of problems on this point.
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Old 12-17-2007, 11:15 AM   #10
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Also being able to go to a publisher's website and see what it forthcoming for ebooks so we don't end up buying the pbook when the ebook is soon to follow. I personally think that not telling us is akin to lying via withholding information.
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Old 12-17-2007, 11:21 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mrkai View Post
I didn't see a single author I recognized in the whole of Baen's very small catalog.

I think this is what I'd call a "big tell".
How is it a big tell? I know of at least two Baen authors who've been on the (extended) NYTimes Best Seller List, Lois Bujold and David Weber.
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Old 12-17-2007, 11:27 AM   #12
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John Ringo and Eric Flint also were on that list.

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Old 12-17-2007, 11:38 AM   #13
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Just to expand on one item noted above -- price. Price, price, price.

Today e-readers are so expensive as to limit the market for e-books tremendously. Nobody I know wants to read a novel on a standard PC screen, Palm TX, or iPhone. You want mainstream volume? We need mainstream e-ink.

Along those lines, as much as I argue against DRM, a really strong DRM should allow a large distributor (e.g. Amazon) to heavily subsidize the e-reader. This is in addition to giving us a real incentive on buying e-books over p-books, not merely matching discount p-book prices. Ths assumes the cost of producing and distributing an e-book are significantly less than a p-book, something I do not know to be a fact but do believe.
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Old 12-17-2007, 11:44 AM   #14
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Ok...I'll rephrase that since the "no offense" part seems to CLEARLY have been ignored.

I go to amazon's top sellers and the NYT fiction list I see several authors I recognize.

As I don't read sci-fi I guess you know this could have been a limiting factor there at Baen.

The other point, and again, getting twisted up on who or who is not a Baen fan may be getting tangental here, but are any of these Baen NYT Bestsellers themselves available from Baen?

Like the Grammys (for example) there is a grammy for Best Audio Engineering on a Latin Fusion Recording-type Grammy...but not many people can tell you who won it.

I go to Mobipocket, I see stuff I know or people I've heard of...and I mean heard of *casually*..not as a fan of a particular genre.

How anyone could have not picked this up...I dunno. Seems like fanboys looking for a fight.

Wrong thread...unless you serious think that

1. Big Publishers would go for the Baen model and
2. Big Publisher's product (with in the above stated "I go to Mobileread, I see stuff I know or people I've heard of...and I mean heard of *casually*...") have the same market weight/value

If so...rock on

Last edited by mrkai; 12-17-2007 at 11:56 AM.
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Old 12-17-2007, 11:47 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NatCh View Post
An interesting comparison point might be to look at the level of piracy on the NYT Bestseller List as a whole (especially the ones that have no e-version at all), if the list is generally free from piracy, then the whole point is pretty moot.
Nope. A nice chunk of it is out there...if you know where to look.

What most interesting about that tho, and pretty unrelated to our specific discussion but interesting nonetheless is that all of the *audiobook* versions floas free, fast and in abundance thru the ether...
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