But what is it exactly, and what are the possible ramifications?
Bottom line is that it allows anyone to self-publish an e-book that will be sold on BN.com. Barnes & Noble is selling it as allowing anyone to "live the dream" with the "publishing power of Barnes & Noble" working for you. You give them a file, they convert to ePub format, and look out John Grisham.
Let's look at the economics first: The author sets their price, but B&N sets the list price for the consumer, between $0.99 and $199.99. B&N collects a royalty percentage based on the price of the book—65 percent if the book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99; 40 percent if the price is below or above that. For example, if the list price is $9.99, B&N gets $6.49. If the list price is $20, B&N gets $8.
For the potential author, B&N makes it as easy as possible—follow their ePub formatting guidelines, upload a file, and 24 to 72 hours later, your book is on sale. The author creates the list of keywords to have their title show up in searches. Once it goes on sale, the author can edit it, take it off sale, etc.
Then sit back and collect those big checks 60 days after the close of the calendar month in which sales occur. Mark your calendars.
First, a very quick look back to put this model in context. Once upon a time, kids, the model was that authors sought out publishers for their opuses, who then tried to get the opus placed with booksellers. A couple of things occurred a while ago—booksellers became publishers; at first, this was often repackaging content for which the copyright had expired, but nonetheless now competing with publishers in the same arena, authors began to self-publish, using copy shops and the post office.
This last development put publishers in a different position. They had to convince some authors that it was more beneficial for authors to work with the publisher than to self-publish. The argument was usually along the lines of, "Sure, you don't get all the profit, but you sell more books because of the expertise we have and the production/sales/distribution machine behind your book." Sound familiar to what Barnes & Noble is saying for pubit! ?
Now "publishers" are competing, not just with self-publishing authors, but with booksellers providing authors another option for their self-publishing. Maybe not a big deal in terms of dollars and cents for most publishers, but another issue forcing them to be more dynamic and light on their feet. This is something most publishers have yet to prove themselves very capable of.
Many parallels have been drawn between the music industry and publishing. Music went through it first, did it badly, etc., etc. The parallel here that I think is important is that years ago, many music artists discovered that they did not need the big record companies. Many of them were being shafted, anyway, and this gave them a way to control their own destiny. But more importantly, they found that the nature of their audience, the technology available, and the shifting culture enabled them to do OK going around the big record-company machines. This is not a universal truth, but we all know that the music industry has changed incredibly—the only real growth they saw last year was in the sale of vinyl LPs. Best Buy now sells vinyl, for example.
If we extend this to the publishing industry, I don't think anyone is ready to say that self-publishing authors are about to put Random House out of business. It's also true that, like the music industry years ago, at this point self-publishing authors are not usually the John Grisham-type sellers.
However, I do think that it is another indication of an industry where change is accelerating. Publishers are dancing as fast as they can to keep up with the changes—with an eye on the music industry; an eye on their stock price; and, oh yeah, an eye on their customers. Reaction by the publishers, and time, will tell us how the industry will adapt.
For Barnes & Noble, I see this as (probably) a relatively small investment with potential returns in perception, if not in dollars. No doubt they have set up scripts to automate (dare I say "black box"?) the file creation. They collect 40 percent to 60 percent of any sale, and it positions them with anyone who's got a manuscript burning up their hard drive with the place to go with it.
Meanwhile, I don't know about you, but I'll be checking BN.com for potential diamonds in the rough by these self-publishing authors.
He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.
In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.