2. The case for getting into eBooks

2.1 Why should I do this?

Despite the challenges, digital publishing and its new distribution channels provide unprecedented opportunities to see your titles reach new markets. While modern design and printing processes have helped to make books available globally, there are inherent difficulties that preclude publishers and authors – particularly those that work on a small scale – from widely distributing their works. EBooks have the capacity to be available everywhere and, providing that your book is well formatted, properly categorised and accompanied by good metadata, anyone with a search engine can find it at any time.

If we look at statistics about the state of the book industry now it will show us that, although currently small, the eBook market is growing steadily. You can continue to produce books via traditional production and supply methods, but if you don’t introduce some strategy around digital publishing into your operations now, then here are some likely scenarios:

  • Readers will become frustrated when they can’t access digital versions of your books and you will lose sales;
  • The ongoing evolution of technologies, buying/reading habits and supply/demand trends will find you being left behind;
  • The opportunities for selling your printed list may decrease as bookstores continue to develop eBookstores;
  • Authors may be less likely to publish with you.

Digital publishing is really about exploring new markets. The content is not changing; you can continue to publish what you have always wanted to publish, and no doubt this will evolve in any case. What is changing is the way in which we deliver that content and who we deliver it to.

New markets now open that may not have been accessible before include:

  • Any territory in the world other than Australia and New Zealand;
  • Non-English speaking countries;
  • Vision impaired readers;
  • Geographically remote regions;
  • Academic/education sector;
  • App developers and users.

2.2 What should my expectations be?

As already mentioned, the eBook market in Australia, particularly when compared to the US and UK, is currently very small and few publishers are making money from digital publishing. If you have been publishing printed books, it’s unlikely that you’re about to see a huge increase in revenues simply because you bring out eBook versions of the same titles.

Instead, venturing into digital publishing can best be viewed as an investment in the future. Perhaps the greatest benefit you will obtain from entering the eBook space now is that it will force you to develop a digital workflow, which of itself, is a very valuable business asset. This workflow will go on to become central to your overall digital business plan.

Digital publishing has not settled into ‘a model’ as yet, and is not necessarily likely to do so in the short term. What’s more probable is that you, as a publisher, will establish your own model based on the tools and resources available to you, and the way in which you want your titles to sit in the marketplace. This guide invites you to manage your expectations in the spirit of discovery and experimentation, as a path towards potential commercial success in the future.

2.3 Who are your eBook customers?

Many of the readers to whom you have been selling printed versions of your books will have transitioned to reading eBooks. In the case of backlist titles, then you are quite likely selling to a brand new audience who is hearing of this title, or deciding to read it, for the first time. But it all depends on how you have been selling books historically. It may be that you have been distributed widely through a big distributor and have had little to do with either the booksellers or the readers. If you have been selling directly from your own website or premises, you may still have limited knowledge of who your customers are. As is often the case with smaller publishers, perhaps you have established key relationships with a number of independent booksellers and have partnered regularly with them to promote your books. Perhaps you are publishing for the first time.

Up until now, what is most likely is that you have a limited understanding of who your customers are beyond the actual bookstore they bought the book from. In the digital age, selling anything is a rather different experience, largely due to the acceleration of social media. Websites such as Twitter or Facebook may feel ubiquitous now, and possibly even slightly meaningless, but the reality is that social networking provides us with a map where you can determine who and where your readers are, what they are reading, and what they are saying about what they are reading. Increased book sales are almost always due to word of mouth, as opposed to large marketing budgets – and this is not the case for all retail. Someone in the business of selling top-of-the-range lounge suites, for example, is far less likely to sell a sofa through a social networking site. People who read books – whether it is a prize-winning work of literature or a self-help guide to overcoming cancer – talk about books. It is a way for them to communicate to others something about themselves. This may sound rather obvious, but understanding this is the key to understanding the benefits of social networking sites in modern publishing. You are about to learn a lot more about the way your customers read, share and shop for books.

2.4 What can you do yourself and where will you need help?

Production – Much of the digital publishing production process can be done ‘in-house’, and many people are producing EPUBs themselves. However, as with typesetting and graphic design, there are many considerations that need to go into creating EPUBs to create high quality files, and as such, there is a strong argument for outsourcing this stage of production unless your typesetter/designer is proficient in EPUB conversion. Adobe CS5.5, the latest incarnation of the suite of software that includes InDesign, does have the ability to create rudimentary EPUBs, but at this stage, it’s not as simple as hitting a button, and a degree of knowledge about HTML is required. The web is littered with countless free or inexpensive conversion programs, as well as EPUB checking sites, but again, unless you know what to look for, this can be a time consuming, and not entirely fruitful approach. Outsourcing EPUB conversion is relatively inexpensive, and there are a number of options, which we will go into later.

Distribution – As with print book distribution, there are pros and cons to going it alone. When you distribute your own printed books, the main things you manage are freight, bookseller relationships and invoicing. When you distribute your own eBooks, it’s slightly different. Assuming that you want your EPUB for sale in as many different places as possible, the main administrative burden for you will be managing distribution agreements. Every eBook vendor will need you to sign an agreement with them, all with varying clauses, metadata requirements and royalty splits. Also, some eBook vendors may be prohibitive to individuals or small publishing companies distributing eBooks, requiring you to go through an aggregator. Using an aggregator or external distributor is not necessarily expensive, and can save you a lot of administrative work; they moderate and simplify a complex network of relationships. Also, your titles will more likely be available more widely. Many publishers depend on aggregators to connect their content with a larger audience

If you decide to manage all your distribution channels in-house, then it is advisable that you have a contract lawyer look at your agreements before you sign them, and you will also need to establish a method of digital asset management. We will discuss selling your EPUBs directly from your own website later on in this guide.

Previous Chapter – 1. Introduction and Overview

Next Chapter – 3. The digital publishing workflow

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