Monday, 29 November 2010


You'd think from some of the sites that e-publishing was a universal panacea. Writers are going to overthrow conventional publishers and take control of their own careers and income streams.

There's no doubt that epublishing has become a cheaper, easier and simpler form of publishing compared to conventional print methods. No worries about distribution or holding stock, for example. But the two fundamental problems associated with ALL publishing are still there:

1. How do you let people know about the book?
2. How do you make them buy it?

Neither of these things are as easy as you'd think. Yes, letting people know is easier now there's social networking and yes, you may be lucky and things go viral, reaching out to millions at the click of a button. But they've still got to buy it. Try an experiment. How many books have been brought to your attention over the last week. And how many did you actually buy?

I must have had over a hundred books pass before me, some of them by people I personally know, and I haven't bought a single one. I buy a lot of books, but right now my To Be Read pile is already stacked high and I'm on a book diet. But whatever the reason, people do not buy every book they see or read about - common sense should tell us that. They buy...1%? I wouldn't be surprised if it was 0.01%. The method of publication makes not difference. Getting people to actually put their hands in their pockets and fork out their cash is hard work.

Books aren't like music downloads. How long does it take to listen to a single track? 3 minutes? 5? And how long to read a book? Several hours at least for most people, if not more. Even if people like the idea of your book they still might not buy it because they haven't the time to read it.

All the successful epublishing stories come from writers who either have previously established readerships or are publishing non-fiction - just the same as with print self publishing success stories. And yes, there are writers who have epublished and gone on to land deals with conventional publishing houses, but I wonder why - if their epublishing venture was so successful - they want a print deal? I'd make a guess it's because book marketing is hard work and unbelievably time consuming.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against self publishing - I've done it myself and with the right project would happily do it again. But just because the technology of publishing has moved on, it doesn't mean that the basic principles of selling books have changed:

How do you get people to know about your book, and how do you get them to buy it?


Anonymous said...

And what about sales to libraries? Seem to remember reading that e-publishers are unwilling to do let e-books be borrowed through libraries.

Ellyn said...

I've read anecdotally that print publishers are more likely to take on an author that's already done the virtual legwork and established themselves in the e-pub market. I wonder if e-publications will go the way of music subscriptions services. I know that i'm more inclined to buy an e-book if all I have to do is type in my itunes password.

Steve Emmett said...

It takes the same time to read an e-book as it does a print book so this has nothing to do with the publishing argument. The matter of marketing and getting people to buy and read your books is a totally separate matter, if an important one. In my view the world of publishing is big enough for e-books and the old-fashioned variety and I cannot see why authors have to slag off new technology.

Sarah Duncan said...

I think some e-publishers are lending to libraries with a royalty licensing system in place, but it's a complicated area.

I think the question of print publishers taking on people who have established a virtual presence is not dissimilar to the print self publishers of ten+ years ago: if you'd sold enough in a short space of time to establish demand and a fan base, then they were interested.

E-publishing is currently a small section of the overall market so it doesn't impinge on the numbers for conventional book sales (for popular fiction). If the balance shifts, it will change the market yet again.

Sarah Duncan said...

Um, Steve, if you read what I have written, all I am pointing out is that epublishing is simply a new technology; the mechanics of selling books are exactly the the same as they have always been. I'm not slagging off new technology.

If you want hot food, you can use an oven or a microwave. It's still hot food at the end - the technology doesn't make a difference.

A book is a book is a book. It's the same book however it's delivered, print or electronically.

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Absolutely spot on, Sarah.

Steve Emmett said...

Sarah, your article doesn't read that way but I'm happy to take your word for it. By the way, fiction outstrips non fiction on e-book sales many times over.