Candice's blog

The Library: The Original Book Pirate

The Publishing Bubble

Booms and bubbles are considered economic inevitabilities—when the getting is good, people will keep buying and selling until the last dollar to be made is had. Recent times have witnessed the burst of the tech and housing bubble. Most bubbles generally don’t survive longer than a decade due to a continued escalation in the destructive behavior that eventually dooms the industry. But what if a bubble lasted longer? Could the traditional publishing model be seeing the end of a 40-year bubble?
 
Bubbles occur for several psychological reasons, but the one that pertains most closely to the traditional publishing model is “The Greater Fool Theory.” This theory, although not scientifically proven but empirically observed, relies on the market’s overvaluation of a product leading to an inflation in price. The price continues to rise as long as a seller can find a greater fool than himself to sell it to. When the price finally plummets, the bubble bursts.
 
Moreso than books being overpriced, the traditional publishing model has been propped up by several illogical modus operandi that could eventually lead to the collapse of this house of cards.
 
1. Dog eat dog: Over the past 40 years, the publishing industry has gone from small publishers working with authors to instead being dominated by the “Big Six” corporate publishing houses (Random House, Macmillian, Simon & Schuster, Pearson/Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette). Corporate publishing eventually led to the rise of the literary agent and the retail behemoths Barnes & Noble and Borders. Corporate publishers continued to acquire smaller presses that couldn’t compete with the large advances that corporations could offer. Larger advances led to more complicated deals, which needed to be brokered by an agent who preferred to work with corporate publishers who offered larger advances. With more books in their catalogues and backlists, the small independent bookstore could no long house, nor move, that quantity of inventory, and they were soon largely put out of business by the corporate mega-bookstores. However, in order for corporate publishers to continue to see profit in a very mature industry (and every corporation has to see profit), the Big Six began acquiring and producing fewer titles and attempting to sell more of the books they produce (i.e., publishing high concept book that could be optioned for their film rights, celebrity tell-alls, etc.) So while there is more book-selling space, fewer books are actually sold.
 
2. Retailers can return books for up to two years: Generally retailers buy enough inventory that they think they can sell in a reasonable time, but not in publishing. Shelf space in a bookstore is bought and sold at a high price, and since books are fully returnable for up to two years, bookstores are more than willing to put books on the shelf that may never sell through to a consumer. Retailers bring books in, eventually ship the unsold lot back, but in the meantime, they have bought more inventory. Publishers and retail chains are in a perpetual state of simultaneously owing and being owed large amounts of money.
 
Borders’s impending and seemingly inevitable collapse brings all these issues into crisis. If Borders goes bankrupt or, even worse, goes out of business, they will leave a legacy of debt and unpaid invoices to the Big Six who relied on them for stocking their inventory. If Borders’s stores worldwide are closed, that decreases the shelf space to basically what Barnes & Noble can carry (the corporate retailer will probably buy several of Borders’s stores if the company does fail).
 
If traditional publishing and brick-and-mortar were the only game in town, then Borders’s collapse would simply lead to a windfall for Barnes & Noble, and likely book prices would increase from a lack of competition. However, with ebooks and Amazon, there’s cheaper competition. Self-publishers out-produced traditional publishers in 2009 nearly 3 to 1. With one less bookstore chain (when there are really only two major ones), will people simply go to bookstores less? Will the “Big Six” be reduced to only its most profitable imprints, and we see a return to the smaller publishing house model? Will ebooks really become the reckoning force people predict?
 
Time can only answer these questions, but it seems that what happens to Borders will largely dictate what happens to publishing as a whole. The 40-year-old bubble may be on the brink.

So You Think You Can Self-Publish an eBook?

Of course you can. With the advent of the iPad and the latest incarnation of the Kindle and other ereading devices, people augured the end of the printed word and the downfall of publishing as we knew it. Along a longer time line, the future will probably reveal that enough people still enjoy reading paperback and hard cover books to justify their existence, and traditional publishers will continue to print them. Where ebooks will have the greatest influence is in self-publishing by making the process far more affordable and lowering the risk involved. If a self-publisher publishes in a printed format, there are several considerations to make:

1) How many books should I print?
2) Where will I store these books once they’ve been printed?
3) How do I get these books to buyers?
4) Who will be my distributor?

Price per unit (PPU) printing costs go down as print quantities go up. However, if you print 10,000 books to save money on the PPU, but can’t sell 10,000, you will pay the difference in warehousing (usually $.25/book every month). And what if you can sell 10,000 books? How much does it cost to ship? If you want to get your book into a bookstore to help you move the inventory, you have to hire a distributor and have a sales force pitch the bookstore buyers. All of this cost money.

Clearly these questions become irrelevant when you publish an ebook. However, new questions arise. Most importantly, into which formats should you convert your ebook? If every ereader could read every format, life would be simple. However, companies want you to buy their ereader. There is no universal format and several proprietary formats.

.epub: ePub is an internationally recognized ebook format. So far only the following software can read it: Calibre, Adobe Digital Editions (ADE), EPUBReader, Stanza, Aldiko, and a few others. Calibre and ADE are limited to PC use and can’t be read on smartphone devices. However, if you’re converting your book to an ebook, this format is a must have because it is compatible with Stanza, which will make your book readable on an iPhone, and Aldiko for the Android. ePub is also readable on the iPad, which is probably the most commonly used ereading device that is not solely an ereading device. ePub also supports the Noble Nook, Sony Reader, and Kobo eReader.

.mobi: Mobipocket books can be played with a free downloadable Mobipocket reader on PCs and mobile devices, such as Blackberries and smartphones with Windows mobile. But most importantly, Mobipocket is an Amazon.com company. Yep. The Kindle. You’re not going to get very far in your ebook publishing venture without it.

.azw: While Amazon owns Mobipocket now, originally it developed the .azw format for the Kindle. Anyone who owns a Kindle to a Kindle DX will be able to read your book in this format.

.lit: .Lit is Microsoft’s version of ebook software for the MS Reader. The highlighting and scribbling/quick note taking features of the MS Reader makes it a popular item. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t play well with others.

There are other formats, such as prc, .lrf, and .pdb, but the devices that play them have been covered by one of the previously mentioned formats. Conversion houses may encourage you to convert your ebook into every format possible to cover all bases, which will add to the cost. My suggestion: Start with the top four and add as needed.

For more information on publishing and ebooks, visit my weekly blog.

It's Them, Not You

At some point in life, most people will utter the words, “It’s not you; it’s me.” Outside of the dating world, it becomes an even harder pill to swallow. In publishing, rejections come in form letters wishing the best of luck and clearly solidifying the end of a relationship that never was. Many agents will give the “it’s not you, I’m just not accepting new clients right now” response. Could it be code for “your book just isn’t very good?” Agents don’t let goldmines slip through their fingertips. Or do they? Are there times when it might be them and not you?

Proofreading eBooks

In the world of self-publishing, ebooks have probably truncated the time between saving your final draft and having a sellable copy more than anything ever seen before. Let’s assume that authors take the time to have their books edited, the content has been perfected, and the manuscript was proofread for typos and lingering errors. The book is truly ready to be published. However, when the book is finally available in Kindle Edition on Amazon, it’s full of typos! What happened?

Script Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street

Every movie starts with a script. Take away the big name actor, lighting, costumes, and makeup, and you’re left with a story that either does or doesn’t hold up. A Nightmare on Elm Street opens on 4/30/10, so if you don’t want to know about the story ahead of time, here’s your spoiler alert. Hard to believe there could be spoilers regarding a remake of a 1980s classic horror film that almost everyone has seen. Director, Samuel Bayer, and Jackie Earle Haley, the new Krueger, took a different take on the once campy boogieman who cleverly delivered one-liners while terrorizing teens in their dreams. This Nightmare has psychological motivation. The movie takes us back to Fred Krueger, a seemingly loveable groundskeeper of a preschool. His victims are no longer connected by their proximity to Elm Street but by something far more insidious. So now Krueger’s got a motive, but that’s really where the character development ends. The parents, in typical horror movie fashion, are impotent to help their children or unknowingly thwarting their attempts to stay alive. The real failure of the script is that the writers (or anyone involved with the making of the movie) didn’t realize that they were no longer making a movie about a mythological creature who audiences loved to hate, but instead made a movie about victims of child molestation and rape who were then later in life murdered in their sleep by the very same psychopath. While extremely dark, it’s not a bad angle to take—if you’re aware that’s the angle. In this Nightmare, the victims are the same one-dimensional characters as they have always been, motivated exclusively by fear and their will to survive. Even children with repressed memories (how plausible is twelve children all completely repressing their entire preschool experience?) manifest the abuse subconsciously—promiscuity, frigidity, inability to connect with people, being withdrawn, suicidal, etc. None of these characters exhibited any of these traits, so they basically were meat puppets placed into a plot that was not motivated by character, but that instead moved from one scare to the next.
 
It was definitely a noble effort to put a new spin on a story everyone already knew and find some way to make it scarier than the original, but if a movie is going to deal with issues of child abuse, then the movie actually has to deal with them and not just as a new twist.
 
Script rating: Do your homework! (C-)

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The Wonderland Effect

Disney’s Alice in Wonderland remake is opening in theaters this Friday, and it’s no wonder with the high anticipation and success of James Cameron’s Avatar that other studios are rushing to make their films available in 3-D IMAX. However, the difference between the critically acclaimed Avatar and the lack luster Alice in Wonderland (I saw an early screening on Monday) is that James Cameron filmed Avatar with 3-D in mind, whereas Tim Burton added small 3-D flourishes as an afterthought. As in film, similarly in writing, all aspects of a work have to be integrated from the beginning.

Top 10 Holiday Gifts for the Ladies Who Love to Read

Many people have women in their lives who are close to them, but for whatever reason this particular lady is like a closed vault when it comes to dropping hints about gifts she might like. However, if she likes to read, there are several gifts that can be deduced from just knowing this one personality trait:

Interview with Vince Poscente, a New York Times Best-Seller

Recently I had the opportunity to catch up with my dear friend, Vince Poscente, New York Times best-selling author of the book Age of Speed. Vince shared his insights on editing, self-publishing, the book industry, and writing a great book.

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