Guest Column: The 300-Pound E-Gorilla
But what kinds of trade e-books are favored? After conducting my own informal interviews of people who own e-readers, I discovered that almost without exception, e-book readers buy print best-sellers. So how does that impact the independents? (Editor's Note: According to Simba Information, and a comparison of print versus e-book best-seller lists provided by various retailers, e-book best-sellers closely mirror print best-sellers.)
For argument's sake, let's say that 80 percent of all trade e-books sold are e-book versions of print best-sellers. Only 12 publishing companies represent the bulk of all best-selling titles. That leaves a paltry 20 percent of sales to be divided among the remaining tens of thousands of mid-size, small and self-publishers. In dollars and sense, that's not enough income to sustain a mid-size house. That does indicate a necessary shift in economic strategies for those 12 trade houses. For the rest of us, the pressure is not that great to stampede to get our book files turned into e-books.
What irks me the most are the dozens of new technology companies that have sprung up to help us poor indies deal with the demand for e-books. They all repeat the same mantra: "You don't have an e-book program? Shame on you, but don't worry. For a few hundred dollars or a big percentage of your book's revenue, we will gladly bring you into the 21st century." For me, the answer is, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Currently, a variety of electronic platforms are being used by competing e-readers. E-book technology is moving so rapidly that it's impossible to know where the dust will settle. And based on my meager e-book income, I see no major gain to jumping into what appears to be a Wild West show. I'm also not too keen on giving up 50 percent of my revenue to have my titles converted into e-books. (Many e-book distributors and services offer independent publishers a 50-50 revenue split for converting their books to e-book formats.) That would cheat my authors and hurt my company's bottom line. For independents, the existing e-business environment clearly gives preference to the converters and e-book distributors. I believe that it is just a matter of time before numerous publishing partners and services emerge to shift the balance more in our favor. When it does come to pass—and it will—there will be better options to choose from and time enough to make informed decisions.