Anne Rice asks: should major authors consider going straight to Kindle?

Well, I got some points with my offspring (and probably with my offspring’s friends) when I could say I’d been chatting with Anne Rice!  Well, not really chatting…the author posted on the Amazon Kindle community, and I responded.  🙂

The author, one of the bestselling of all time (with something in the neighborhood of 100 million copies sold), took the bold step of posting her question in what is putatively a commercial forum for a company’s product…but what has been so much more to so many people.

This in itself is extraordinary…like Johnny Depp dropping into your local Starbucks to ask the crowd what movie he should do next.  While that might produce a largely “mouth agape” response, the Kindle community has responded with some very thoughtful comments.

You can read (and contribute to) the thread here.

Anne graciously granted me permission to quote her here, so I’m going to give you her first post:

What do you think? If regular publishing is having a very hard time marketing and distributing books effectively, should major authors think about making Kindle (if possible) their primary publisher? Kindle would then be the one to introduce and advertise the book, and Kindle could license limited hard cover editions for those addicted to the “real book.” Would this be good for authors? Would it be good for readers? Would Kindle do it?

This is a complicated and important set of questions.

Let’s start out with the main idea:

Should a major author publish a book first as an e-book?

While readers of this blog are likely to shout “Sure!” there are issues. 

  • Would doing this hurt the author’s relationship with publishers of paperbooks?
  • How does the author get the services a paper publisher traditionally provides (editing, proof-reading, publicity)?
  • E-books are still a small slice of overall publishing…would publishing as an e-book first reduce the market for the book?
  • How does the author deal with the different formats?  If a book is published for the Kindle store, a nook or Sony reader can’t buy it there and use it on her or his own device
  • Would it affect the readers perception of the author?

Respect

I’m going to take the last question first, because, well, to me that’s the most interesting one.  😉

Are e-books seen as being as legitimate as  p-books (paperbooks)?   That’s the heart of this question.  It feels a bit like whether or not movie stars should appear on TV…when that issue was raised in the 1950s.  Movies were seen as “the real thing”, in the same way as p-books may be seen as the real thing.  A movie star could be seen as “slumming” by being on television back then.  You didn’t see the biggest box office draws (except maybe on a show like the  Ed Sullivan show).  They might appear on television, but they didn’t act on television.

That’s changed now.  When Glenn Close chose to do Damages, people didn’t assume her career was on a downward spiral or she needed the money.   Other stars who could have done big movies have chosen the small screen.

The parallel seems to be there for me.  There is the concern that e-books are seen as not “real books”.  Since self-publishing is a significant part of the business, almost anybody can have a title in the Kindle store (or on Smashwords).   There is no editing barrier to it, no selection process.  You want to publish your grocery lists for the past twenty-five years?  No one is going to stop you.  You could have the worst possible mish-mash of a confused plot and horrid writing, and it could be up on the Amazon website.

Would James Cameron make a video for YouTube?

That last one isn’t really accurate, because people don’t pay for YouTube videos.

I think, though, just like television has become legitimized, that’s going to be the case with e-books as well.   I don’t think most readers have a lesser opinion of something because it is an e-book…I think that’s something publishers, reviewers, and the “literary establishment” may think.  I’m still waiting for Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times to regularly review e-books exclusives. 

It’s going to happen.  I don’t think it will be too long before e-books are really the mainstream of popular publishing, and p-books are the niche, luxury market.

People expressed the same concerns when paperbacks became popular…and initially, penny dreadfuls and dime novels were disrespected and “genre ghettos”.  That is, to some extent, where independently published e-books are now.

I don’t think it’s going to take a decade for it to shift.  I think the next year is crucial in e-book publishing.  Now is the time to make the move.  People are going to realign their loyalties about books in the next year or two.  Recognizing the future, respecting the readers’ choice to go digital…I think people will embrace that.

What do you think about that issue?

I posted in Anne’s thread that I could do a poll, so here it is:

Incompatible store formats

The Kindle store sells books in the azw and Topaz formats.  Other e-book readers (like Barnes and Noble’s nook (sic) and the Sony Reader Daily Edition) can not display those books (within the system). 

Similarly, Barnes and Noble sells books in their eReader format, PDFs, and EPUB.  If you published directly to Barnes and Noble, that file could not be legitimately displayed on the Kindle.

You don’t want to cut out and/or alienate a segment of your readers

However, you don’t have to exclusively publish in one or the other.  When I publish in the Digital Text Platform, that’s a non-exclusive agreement: I could also put it on Smashwords, which would get me in the Sony store.  I haven’t done it, but I could. 

A well-established author could also easily sell a couple of different formats (mobi and PDF, for example) through a website.  Those two files could have DRM (Digital Rights Management) to influence copying, and would cover the main e-readers.  Independent authors with a smaller readership do that now.

Would going exclusive to one store or another make sense?

Stephen R. Covey just signed exclusively with Amazon for e-book versions of some of his books.  Amazon sent out a press release about it, and he got quite a bit of buzz.  That’s worth something…but other EBRs (e-book readers) are likely to get a larger market share in the future…not necessarily larger than Amazon, but larger than they have now. 

That’s a marketing call…some people are really angry about not being able to read a book on any device at any time…my guess is that it would be better to not be exclusive, but I don’t want to underestimate the buzz factor. 

There’s also no reason that the author’s book would have to be exclusively e-book, even if it is independently published.  Amazon has a “Print on Demand” option (POD), so they will print a book you are selling…when somebody asks for it.  That takes some set up, but for readers who prefer paper, that’s an option. 

A book might also start as an e-book and then the rights for paper publishing could be sold to a traditional publisher (tradpub). 

Would that hurt the sales, though?  If a book first came out an e-book, and then was published as a hardback, would consumers have less of that “first edition” passion for it?  That’s a tough call for me.  When a book was first a website or a blog, I don’t think that hurts the paper sales.  Are the majority of people who buy a book in a brick and mortar store the same people who are likely to read a blog online?   Maybe…but my intuition (and I’m a former bookstore manager, although it was some years ago now) is that not that many shoppers say, “Oh, I could just read that online…I’m not buying it” if they regularly buy paper books.

As the market shifts, the people who buy paperbooks are going to be more oriented towards paper and not digital, I think.  They will want a “real book” because it is a gift, or because they think they will have it forever or it will look good on a shelf…or because they aren’t comfortable reading on a screen.  I don’t think you’ll discourage them because it was digital first.

Production services

One of the concerns that people have with independently published books in the Kindle store is that they can seem…sloppy.  There may be proof-reading problems (“conscious” for “conscience”), and editing problems (a big tangential section in the middle that could have been eliminated.  There may be formatting concerns.

Independent authors may simply not be able or willing to pay for professionals during the production process.  Not everybody who publishes a book is trying to make money or expects to make money.  They might not be able to pay someone a thousand dollars to edit a book that is only going to make ten. 

It’s a bit different with a major author.  An editor might do it for “points”.  If you got two percent of the royalties to edit Anne Rice’s next vampire book, would you do it?  If it took six months?

I think a lot of professionals would.   They might have money saved on which to live, the author might be able to pay an advance, just like a publisher would, or they could be doing it along with working on other books.

That’s kind of a different model, I think, for an editor. 

Anne had asked if the “Kindle” would publish it.  During the conversation, the topic of Amazon becoming more of a publisher has been raised.

I could see that.  They do already publish a few things, but they could set up a “production services” division.  That could include editing, proof-reading, and formatting.  This would be in addition to the Digital Text Platform, which is really more of a distributor than a publisher.

Seem too far afield from their retailing activities?  They are doing proof-reading now.  One of my books was removed from (and then restored to) the Kindle store because of a formatting issue, as I reported earlier.

That was a shift for them.  I could completely see Amazon offering that as a professional service.

Contracts and contacts

Would going to e-book hurt an author’s connections in the publishing industry?  Would you be seen as a traitor?

Well, if you’ve had a long time relationship with a publisher, it would make sense (in my opinion) to give them an option to put out an e-book version first.  You could set the rules under which you would agree.  For example, an author could insist on text-to-speech and simultaneous release (with the hardback, if any).  A publisher might certainly say no…they are the marketing experts, hypothetically, and they might not agree to a release schedule determined by the “talent” side of the equation.

If that’s the case, you have a few options:

  • Shop it to other tradpubs
  • Don’t publish it
  • Publish it yourself

I’m not saying this would be an easy call.  If you insist on text-to-speech, because you feel it disproportionately disadvantages one population (which is how I feel), you would lose some really major players.  If your hardback was released by a smaller publisher, you might not sell as many copies.

However, you might sell more copies of the e-book…and remember that e-books don’t have to ever go “out of print”.  They aren’t going to have to make a major call as to whether or not to do another print run every year or so (sooner, if it is selling well). 

It might be a short term loss and a long term gain.

As Jeff Bezos might put it, now is the time to “buy market share”. 

Now, that sounds crassly commercial.  My own feeling is that e-books can reach so many more people than p-books.  There are people with all kinds of print challenges (even if they don’t rise to the legal level of a disability), and that is, unfortunately, likely to increase.  The workarounds (large print, Chafee Amendment audiobooks) are simply not the same as sharing the book with members of your family. 

You can tell what my answer to Anne’s question is.  Should major authors consider going straight to e-book?  Yes, absolutely, and sooner is better.  When everybody is doing it, you won’t get the same effect.  Do it now, and people will see you as someone who gets it.  Readers like reading e-books, and that’s going to be more and more true in the near future.  You will be seen as wanting to give the largest number of people the option to read the book how they want (I’m not saying to not do p-books as well). 

You will be seen as part of the future.

That’s just how I feel about it, of course.  How do you feel about it?  Feel free to let me know. 

 This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

8 Responses to “Anne Rice asks: should major authors consider going straight to Kindle?”

  1. bufocalvin Says:

    It may seem odd that I’m commenting on m own post, but I feel like this is like a footnote. I think it would distract from the main post, but that the information is important.

    The obvious question is how I know this is really the author Anne Rice who is posting, and the equally obvious answer is, “I don’t.” However, I think there is a high probability. Amazon has this “Real Name” thing, where they will let you know if a poster’s screenname matches up with a name they have on record for that person (like on a credit card). I used to have the tag when I posted, but I changed my default 1-click payment method for the holidays, and I don’t think my name now exactly matches what is on that card (middle initial or something), so I don’t have the tag for now. So, it could be a hoaxer, but it would be harder than you might think.

    There is also a profile for the poster, and that seems to match up…so I don’t think it is a different Anne Rice. Also, I do think Amazon would catch this blatant a hoaxer.

  2. Anie Says:

    Besides the ‘real name’ Amazon verification feature (w/picture), she was saying somewhat similar things in her Twitter and Facebook areas before she posted in the forum.

    http://twitter.com/annericeauthor

    And especially
    http://bit.ly/annricefb

    Terrific blog, Bufo.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Anie!

      Yes, I really think the odds are that it is her…although sometimes, people try to tell me I’m not me. 😉 It can be like that episode of the original The Prisoner…The Schizoid Man. 🙂

      Anne Rice has never been, in my mind, one of the herd. When she wrote her big hit vampire book, writing about vampires wasn’t a pool pass to swim in the mainstream…she made it that, really. She’s written erotica…and more recently Christian fiction. That clearly isn’t somebody who simply does what people tell her she should do for her career. I think that’s someone who follows a creative muse.

  3. Anie Says:

    Also, from her Twitter page, Dec. 13

    ===
    ‘I still studying ebook publishing. I’m wondering who will be the first major author to make Amazon Kindle his or… http://bit.ly/5iKBRX 1:45 PM Dec 13th from Facebook ‘
    ===

    — which is right after her Amazon forum post, actually if it’s PST —
    And that link goes to her Facebook page, where she said:

    ===
    I still studying ebook publishing. I’m wondering who will be the first major author to make Amazon Kindle his or her primary publisher? Imagine it. Kindle would introduce and publicize the book, and license hard cover editions. Is this possible or likely? Is Kindle interested? They must be thinking about it.
    ===

    So she was contacting various audiences on this question, at the same time.

    Unless it’s an Anne Rice simulator on Facebook, that’s likely Rice…
    And besides, she uploads videos of herself doing commentaries, at youtube.com — and tweets the alerts for those.

    She raises interesting questions and it’s hard to believe no one is interviewing her about these issues she brings up.

  4. Daz Says:

    Anne Rice has always been one to challenge the norms in thinking whether it’s genre writing, religion or in this case may be, publishing. I think it’s awfully forward thinking of her.

    On another note, did you know that in order to avoid bankruptcy Dorchester Publishing has recently moved to publish all their books in eBook format only first (not sure what format) and then only in Trade paperback later on if the sales justify it. It has the author community in an uproar and the reader community in a dither. It will be interesting to see how it plays out when the first eBook gets published by Dorchester as a result of this move. I don’t know if that’s happened yet or not.

  5. Daz Says:

    Dang! One of those books is on my to read list too. Wish I knew about it (and discovered your blog) sooner. 🙂

  6. 10 years of ILMK! Free books! Amazon gift certificate giveaway! All to thank you! | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Anne Rice asks: should major authors consider going straight to Kindle? […]

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