It has been fascinating to watch the rapid evolution of ebooks, both as a technological platform and as a publishing platform. As a consumer, you may have already purchased an ebook reader, such as Amazon’s Kindle or the Nook from Barnes and Noble. Apple’s entry into the field with the iPad is expected to result in an explosion of new titles available to readers in the ebook format. Yet the workings of this industry behind the scenes, where books are actually created for delivery to these devices, is still evolving.
The publishing of ebooks has upended and overturned the traditional model of commercial publishing. The traditional author worked through an agent, one who negotiated each book individually with publishing houses to determine the market value of a book. The author’s rights to print, web, and film could be negotiated separately. If the deal didn’t go through, the agent could shop the book around to other publishers.
The ebook market is far less flexible for the author. Because the producers of these devices control the publishing platform, they get to set the terms. At Amazon and Apple, the terms are set: a 70/30 split. The difference comes in book pricing. Apple will sell every book on its iPad for $9.99, an arbitrary price point the author cannot control. Amazon is willing to offer ebooks at a significantly lower price. Although the 70/30 split is a higher percentage than the author could get from a traditional publisher, these low ebook prices will net far less for the author than the proceeds from a self-published trade paperback.
Recently, Barnes and Noble announced the creation of PubIt!, their new ebook publishing division. Whether they can offer more attractive terms for authors remains to be seen.
The stakes are higher than ever before. This isn’t just an issue of the author’s contract, whether he makes a few cents more or less per book. Because there are just a few giants in the ebook business, Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble don’t just sell the reading devices, they also control the distribution of ebooks. You can’t choose to shop at an independent bookstore down the street if you don’t like what they’re offering.
Is it a good idea to publish your book in ebook form? You are not likely to make a profit from a wide readership, but an ebook can be useful to your existing readers. The multimedia form can offer a more complex experience. You can incorporate video and audio into the book experience. One of the best features of ebooks is the embedded internet links, opening up more avenues of exploration for the reader.
Unfortunately, an ebook costs as much or more to produce than a print book: it requires writing, editing, and design, with more complexity. This is why so many ebooks you see for sale are actually promoting some other profitable venture, whether the print book, or a product or service. The ebook isn't a profit center, but it can be an effective loss leader.