Monday, December 10, 2007

As The Publishing World Turns: An Advertising Idea

Some things I've noticed recently, and a new idea I might be the guinea pig for.

Visiting the airport in Knoxville, TN, I went into a Paradies Shop. There are over 500 of these stores in over 60 airports. Among other sundries, they sell books.

Apparently, they also rent books.

Paradies has a Read & Return policy. You buy it, keep it for up to six months, and then can return is for a 50% refund.

For travellers, this is a great idea. Read during plane rides and layaways, then get a portion of the money back.

But I'm wondering if there are deals in place with Paradies stores that restrict returns back to the publisher/distributor. Or else a book can sell three or four times, then be returned back to the publisher, and the publisher and author make nada. Unless there is some sort of special contract, I can't see how this can possibly be good for books sales or royalties.

On an unrelated note, I was straightening up my son's bedroom when I found two audio books, "Junie B. Jones Has A Monster Under Her Bed" by Barbara Park and "Dinosaurs Before Dark" by Mary Pope Osborne. My son got these a few months ago, as free toys in a Kid's Meal at Wendy's.

Free books with your burger. Awesome. I'll stick them on his iPod.

This made me think, yet again, about the future of publishing, and how it is increasingly becoming digital. The Amazon Kindle ebook reader was recently released, and it's a pretty cool piece of equipment. But too expensive ($399) to change the publishing industry like iPod forever changed the music industry. For the industry big wigs who read my blog and hang on my every word, here's my criteria for the perfect ebook reader.

1. Backlit, with changeable fonts.

2. Scratch proof and water resistant.

3. Wireless Internet download capability.

4. Comfortable to hold.

5. Intuitive controls and user interface.

6. A few gigs of storage, with the ability to add more.

7. Upgradable software.

8. Color screen.

9. The ability to play mp3 audiobooks.

10. Long battery life and fully rechargeable.

11. Compatible with pdf files.

12. DRM free.

Amazon seems to have gotten a lot of these right, but it's not quite there yet. And publishers still don't seem to understand downloads. The $9.99 price Amazon is charging for hardcovers is too steep for digital-only text content. However, the paperback prices range from $3.96 (for Whiskey Sour) to $7.99 (For Rusty Nail) which I think is more reasonable, but still a bit high for a download.

Give it two years and prices will come down, both for the hardware and the books.

Which brings me to the guinea pig portion of this blog entry.

My own foray into digital publishing has been enlightening. My Free Ebook webpage has had over 4000 hits since I put my ebook Origin on there last winter. I added The List, Disturb, and 55 Proof a few months ago, and began tracking downloads, and have had a combined total of over 1500 so far. I've gotten a good amount of fan feedback on these books, and they've gotten some online reviews.

Their purpose was to hook new readers and get them to buy my print books. Since there is no cost involved for me (other than the time of writing, editing, and formatting) I consider these freebies a smart business move.

But now I'm thinking they could be more.

Many blogs posts ago, I openly wondered what would happen when publishing went digital in a big way. When more books were read electronically than on paper, and people traded the book files freely like they do music mp3s. When you could get a discography of every Stephen King book on a single CD for $14.95, and when you would get book downloads for less than a dollar, or even for free.

A frightening world, for publishers and for authors. How can we make money if someone buys a copy of our latest book for fifty cents and then sends it to their entire email list for free?

One of the things I predicted is that publishing will do what other media did: Use Sponsors and Advertisers.

While McDonalds and Toyota aren't beating down my doors, offering me thousands of dollars to have Jack Daniels (or me) use their products, my ebooks do have room for ads. In fact, each of them contains an ad, at the end, for the Jack Daniels series.

So I got to thinking that maybe I could do more with this space.

I really dislike pop up ads, and banner ads, and website ads, in the same way I hate TV commercials. They're intrusive. By contrast, newspaper and magazine ads are passive. You can skip the page and ignore them if you want to.

I have a large collection of paperbacks, and many have ads in the back for other books, some by the same author and some by different authors. Some early ones even have ads in the middle of the book, for cigarettes.

But, for the most part, the advertising potential of books hasn't been exploited. And there's probably a good reason for this. People plunking down good money for a book don't want to read any ads. I agree. I hate paying $10 to see a movie and then have to sit through two commercials. It's not fair.

But I wouldn't mind sitting through commercials if the movie were free.

And I wouldn't mind dealing with a few ads if the book were free.

JAKonrath.com offers four free ebooks. These aren't reprints, or public domain, or available anywhere else. These are brand spanking new. And I'm not making a dime off of them.

The Experiment

While I'm not a huge brand name author, I do have a growing fan base, and people are downloading my freebies at a rate of about ten a day.

Since you're reading this, I assume you're an author. Maybe you've got a book out, or one coming out. Maybe you'd like to reach a specific demographic of fans, namely people who read mysteries and thrillers. And maybe who don't have a big budget to spend on advertising.

Here's what I'm proposing. For ten bucks, you can get a full page ad in the back of one of my ebooks for a sixth month period.

For twenty-five bucks, you can get an ad in all four books for six months.

Here are the rules.

1. All ads must be approved by me.

2. You're responsible for creating your ad and sending it to me as either a jpg or a MS Word .doc file.

3. You'll appear in the ebook of your choice (The List, Origin, Disturb, 55 Proof) for $10, or all four ebooks for $25, for a six month period starting no later than a week after I receive payment via PayPal. Book descriptions are HERE.

4. Ads will appear at the back of the ebooks, and be sold on a first come/first serve basis, which is the order they'll appear in.

5. You aren't buying my blurb or the use of my name, and an ad does not mean I endorse you or your work. But you are free to distribute my ebooks with your ad in them, link to them on your website, and mention that you've bought ad space from me.

6. Tracking the effectiveness of your ads is your job, not mine. While I'm honest about the number of hits and downloads I get, I'm not giving the world access to my tracking sites and meters. I suggest having something in your ad, like a specific coupon code or a unique URL, to judge how many hits you're getting from your ad.

7. All sales are final. But I reserve the right to pull your ad or pull my ebooks at any time, in which case you'll get a prorated refund.

Now lets have some Q & A.

Q: Do you actually think you'll make a lot of money doing this?

A: No. This is an experiment. If it is successful, money may someday come from large companies, not fellow authors. But Sears, Dairy Queen, Sony, Coke, Universal Studios, and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry aren't readers of my blog. Writers are. That's who I can reach, and having book ads in the backs of my ebooks makes logical sense.

Q: What kind of ads will you accept?

A: I dunno until I see some. Obviously, I expect most of them to be book ads. 1-900 sex numbers, POD and editing services, and ads for G*n*ric Vi*gr@ will be turned down. I'm not the one to talk to about the effectiveness of ads, as I don't believe most of them work.

Q: How many ads will each book contain?

A: I have no set number in mind. If people keep buying them, I'll keep selling them. I think it would be kind of interesting, from a writer's standpoint, to see 150 book ads back-to-back. It would sure give you a crash course in what works and what doesn't.

Q: Are you going to tell the people that download your ebooks that they contain ads?

A: Yes. On my website and in the ebooks themselves I'll have a disclaimer along the lines of:

"This ebook was made freely available to you by the generosity of sponsors. These sponsors have placed ads in the back of this book. I encourage you, the reader, to visit these pages. Maybe you'll find something to enjoy."

Q: Aren't you worried about losing credibility in the publishing world with this stunt?

A: As writers, we need to break new ground and try new things. We need to study and question, rather than blindly accept. We need to lead, rather than follow. Else we're just sheep. And sheep don't usually meet with happy endings.

Q: Can I buy ad space in any of your print books, or any of your Jack Daniels ebooks?

A: No.

Q: I work in advertising, and have access to executives at large corporations. Can I try to sell adspace for you?

A: If you know a large corporation who'd be willing to pay me real money to advertise in the back of my four free ebooks, I'd split the money with you 50/50. And if the money is big enough, I'll even try to make the characters in my books use their products. We could also negotiate for additional ad space (front of book, middle of book, two page ads, etc.) Obviously, this will cost a tad bit more than $10.

Q: I'm sold. You have 14,000 MySpace Friends, you get hundreds of thousands of hits a year on your website and blog, and Googling "JA Konrath" gets 140,000 results. I spend more than ten bucks a day on lunch, so an ad in the back of one of your free ebooks seems like a really good deal. How do I try this?

A: Contact me at haknort@comcast.net and we'll talk.

Q: When are you going to start this?

A: It depends. Right now I'm running it up the flagpole to see who salutes. If there's interest, I'll try it. If not, I'll wait until I'm a bigger name and try it again. I know if any NYT bestselling thriller author offered a free ebook, I'd buy adspace in the back, and pay a lot more than $10.

Which brings me to questions I have for you, the blog reader. I'd love you to weigh in on this idea. Is it the future of publishing, or just plain stupid?
Or more specifically:

1. Would you pay $10 for a six month ad in one of my ebooks? Why or why not?

2. Is $10 too much of too little? Is six months too long or too short?

3. Would you rather pay for an ebook with no ads, or get a free ebook that contained some ads? What would you pay for the ad-free version? Assume it's an author you enjoy.

4. Did I cover everything? Did I overlook something?

5. Will this idea work? Why or why not?

Looking forward to your reactions...

50 comments:

Michele Lee said...

1. Would you pay $10 for a six month ad in one of my ebooks? Why or why not? Yes, but I have nothing to promote at the moment, so I hope you will be doing this for a while.

2. Is $10 too much of too little? Is six months too long or too short? $10 for one book, starting out. I'd say that's fair, incentive to get people to experiment with you.

3. Would you rather pay for an ebook with no ads, or get a free ebook that contained some ads? What would you pay for the ad-free version? Assume it's an author you enjoy. That honestly depends on how much money I have. I don't mind the ads or product placement. A free ebook is much more likely to get me to try a new author.

4. Did I cover everything? Did I overlook something? I'm sure someone will find a loophole some where

5. Will this idea work? Why or why not? It will, maybe not as well as you'd like, but it will work.

Anonymous said...

Ads for free content is what I expect and see on numerous online venues. I say go for it!

I could care less if ads were for ads for G*n*ric Vi*gr@ since the Vi*gr@ is all over on TV, but that's just me...

Patricia J. Hale
patriciahale.blogspot.com

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Joe, I don't know whether this idea will work or not, but I think you're right on target about writers needing to think outside the box. Whether we like it or not, books are going digital. Kindle is not going to get us there, but we're definitely going to get there.

I recently made the decision to put banner ads on my site. (I know you are not a fan of this.) Actually, they're affiliate ads. No popups, however. And I don't mix ads within the text of my writing the way bloggers often do.

I haven't tried placing ads in my eBooks yet. But I encourage people to read the books on my site, which most do. It will take a tremendous volume of traffic to make any significant income this way. And I've got a long way to go. But it seems like my best shot.

I tried selling subscriptions to one of my books. That was only mildly successful. Fair or not, people expect reading content on the web to be free. Just like TV - that is, if you still get your broadcast from an antenna.

So, how do most of the TV shows make money? We all know the answer: advertising!

I know you're already thinking of the CONs list, but a few PROs are less things to worry about, like:
- returns
- resale bookstores
- copying/giving away free
- big-box stores pulling you off the shelves

Good luck with your experiment, Joe.

RobertBurtonRobinson

Jesse Hines said...

"I really dislike pop up ads, and banner ads, and website ads, in the same way I hate TV commercials. They're intrusive. By contrast, newspaper and magazine ads are passive. You can skip the page and ignore them if you want to."

I sort of get what you're saying, but you can also just ignore TV and website ads as well--flip the channel or move on to another website.

I don't think it's necessarily inherent that internet ads be intrusive. Pop up ads and flyover ads are intrusive and irritating, but well done small text links that blend into the color scheme sometimes enhance a site's aesthetic.

Gotta make money somehow though.

JH

Stacey Cochran said...

Great food for through, JA.

I think today's brightest young writers are increasingly more entrepeneurial than 10, 20, or 30 years ago.

There are literally thousands of writers like me, who are under 35 and writing novel after novel that would have found a publisher 30 years ago, but who will write 10-15 novels that will never find publication.

These writers are increasingly turning to other forms of media to generate attention and sales (often for self-published books). Many authors create their own micro-publishing company, self-publish their works and the work of others, and create a readership completely on their own without the aid of traditional publishing.

Kelly Link, Jeremy Robinson, the guy behind MacSweeny's, the guy at NaNoWriMo (Chris Baty).... even someone like Bryon Quertermous, Anthony Neil Smith, Victor Gischler - they created their own e-zine to publish the work of others (and themselves) and built (or are trying to build) a readership that way.

It's essentially what I'm doing with the TV show and with howtopublishabook.org, which has reached the #1 spot on MSN.com, Yahoo, and is currently #11 on Google for "How to Publish a Book."

More and more authors will find fewer and fewer publishers willing to publish their first novel solely on the merit of the writing.

Increasingly, I think we'll see that you've got to bring an established readership of several hundred thousand people to the table before a publisher will find your writing worth their time.

Daniel Hatadi said...

You know, reading your list of ideal attributes for an eBook reader, I've just realised I already have one: it's called an iPhone. If the companies can get it together to sell books on this little beastie as easily as music, we're on a winner.

But, dude, product placement in books? Don't go there. Don't cross that line.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I think you are underestimating Kindle. IMO we're sitting on the verge of huge change in the publishing industry. The price of the reader itself, as well as the downloads, may need to be tweaked. But that no doubt can and will happen just as it does with every new technology.

Lots of writers who are not with publishers will be able to make their books available as Kindles. In fact, you don't even need an ISBN. Plus, Amazon has made it incredible easy to open an account, upload the book, etc.

The really cool thing is that the the font size can be adjusted, meaning it will be ideal for older readers.

Kindle is something to keep an eye on. IMO, the reshaping of publishing has taken a giant step.

JA Konrath said...

Kindle is something to keep an eye on.

I agree, but not this generation of Kindle.

Perhaps in a year or two, when the features get better and the price comes down. I think the magic price point is $199, with $5 downloads. Or free downloads, with ads....

Maria Zannini said...

1. Would you pay $10 for a six month ad in one of my ebooks?

mz: Since you have a loyal fan base and good traffic, my guess is that it would be a fair investment for mystery and thriller writers. People who enjoy your writing, might enjoy theirs.

2. Is $10 too much of too little? Is six months too long or too short?

mz: $10 is reasonable for an experiment.

Six months is the minimum. Because it is passive advertising, it has to appear long enough to capture attention.

3. Would you rather pay for an ebook with no ads, or get a free ebook that contained some ads?

mz: It doesn't matter to me either way, as long as there are not more ads than novel pages. Even for a free book, I don't want to wade through TOO many ads.

4. Did I cover everything? Did I overlook something?

mz: Will the ads have live links directing the reader to the advertiser's website?

5. Will this idea work? Why or why not?

mz: I kinda like it. It has a grassroots feel to it that appeals to me. Whether it will fly or not depends on how broad your reach is. My concern is that the ads are only viable for that brief window of time when the buyer first looks over the book. How many of us will open that file again once we finish reading it? Unless the ad is memorable, its value is fleeting.

Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Can I just add one more e-book requirement? USB compatable! I want to be able to add my own files rather than only the ones I've purchased online. It would be fantastic for when I'm having to read and review entire ebook novels or preprint manuscripts. If they want to take it one step further having a electronic pen feature to 'draw' and make notes on what I'm reading would be lovely as well.

1. Would you pay $10 for a six month ad in one of my ebooks? Why or why not?

I think this is a great idea and I would love to put an ad in your ebook to see how it fairs but... it means designing an ad and I don't have the talent to design it myself. Hiring a professional ad designer costs a LOT more than $10.

2. Is $10 too much of too little? Is six months too long or too short?

I think for the trial you're running it's a very good deal. If you also add your own ad or two to the back you could track how it fairs when it comes to results. With statistics on how the trial ran you could then up your price and/or shorten your term.

3. Would you rather pay for an ebook with no ads, or get a free ebook that contained some ads? What would you pay for the ad-free version? Assume it's an author you enjoy.

Definitely an ebook with ads for free unless the no ads book was almost free. I'd rather pay full book price to have a real book on the shelf so an ebook has to either be free or be exceptional and highly recommended for my to download it. I don't like reading book size content on the computer.

4. Did I cover everything? Did I overlook something?

You did pretty well covering it all. :-)

5. Will this idea work? Why or why not?

I think it's a great idea. We're definitely finding our mediums being eaten up by copyright lawbreakers. It might be illegal to reproduce works but it's such a prolific thing on the web it's practically expected and the norm these days which is a shame for all artists. I think turning to advertising as a stream of income is a good way to ensure continued financial success if the bottem falls completely out of the print business.

Kate said...

I think its a great idea to put ads for other books into free ebooks.

I would be annoyed if the ads were totally irrelevant to writing/reading though, and were littered throughout non-free ebooks. If I'm reading an ebook I dont want to see an ad about dog food or cheap medicine, and if the ebook wasn't free I dont want to see ads at all, except for more books from the same author.

Advertising is rife enough in this world.. but ads for other books to read, especially if they're in the same genre, is a great idea. It would also be especially good if there were links in the ads to a free exerpt, but that is for the individual advertisers to decide.

Price and time limit sounds reasonable. I only wish I had something finished that is ready to advertise.

Rob in Denver said...

Interesting idea.

One question you haven't answered is, "I'm willing to pay more to have my ad at the top. How much?"

Rob in Denver

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Here's a book review of Bloody Mary.

About the rest, advertising is the lifeblood for radio and TV stations. (I used to work in at an advertising paper. They were in direct competition for those advertising dollars with the radio station.)

Also, I have tried ads on my blogspot. With all the ads, I make about 1 cent every three or four days. It is not worth it. I am about ready to cut them.

I would buy a book without ads. I am also old fashioned. I don't like the digital books. They are hard on the eyes. I prefer the feel of the book in my hands as I turn the page. The black and white letters on the page don't blink at me. And, don't give me headaches.

As you are probably aware, some of computer/TV anime cause epilepsy in children and adults that never had it before. So I don't think that we will lose the old-fashioned books.

Also, I think ads in books is a great idea especially when you are dealing with people who believe that everything from writing to music is free. Because if you give it for free too long, you get to the point where you have to have another job to feed and clothe yourself.

Anyway, there is my ramble and I'm sticking to it.

Mark Terry said...

Interesting experiment and I'll be curious to see how it goes. (And when the Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly come calling, let us know, okay?)

My feelings about it aren't all negative, but I was trying to think how this concept could screw writers and I'm reminded of a friend of mine who started hosting a social network called Open Diary years and years before social networking was a phrase and MySpace and FaceBook weren't even dreamt up. His exact phrase was, "Banner hit-rates are in the shitter."

In other words, he was making most of his income based on how many people were clicking-through on his ads. And those were going down. And when that happened, the advertisers started paying less to have their ads on the site.

Now, let's push this to your "free content plus ads" concept and try to figure out how publishers will be authors.

Hmmm. Advertising is often based on how many viewers, etc. Which is why a 30-second slot during the Super Bowl is so expensive.

So will there be a correlation between, say, Lee Child's ad for Pepsodent ("The toothpaste used by Reacher!") and David Morrell's ads for Emerson knives. ("It slices, it dices--you can use it to gut your enemy AND peel potatoes!").

And if the ad agencies and/or product manufacturers then track their advertisement's effects on sales (I know, I know--this is publishing! Can't you just hear someone say, "We don't know how many books have been sold!") and find that, yeah, it sells some, but not as much as we hoped, so we'd still like to run the ad, but you're going to have to charge less... who gets paid less?

The author.

So let's run more ads. But Lee, I'm sorry, our production costs are too high if the book is over 400 pages, and we've got 35 pages of ads, so make sure your novel doesn't run over 365 pages. And, oh by the way, Brooks Brothers wants to advertise in your book, so Reacher's going to have to buy a suit. And Toyota wants to, as well, so Reacher's going to need to buy a Celica. OKay? No, no, Lee, not rent or steal--Toyota insists that Reacher has to actually OWN a Toyota. Thanks.

Like I said, it's an interesting concept. But man, there's some potential pitfalls.

Anonymous said...

Aren't you the guy who repeatedly denounced ads as the most ineffective way of promotion?

Dawn Firelight said...

Hi Joe!
In answer to you questions:

1. Yes, sure. But like Michele said, I've got nothing to promote at the moment.

2. $10 is just right, I think. I'm not sure writers would be willing to spend more than that on an ad. Six months is a little short though, imho. I would be happy to pay more for a 12-month ad.

3. I would rather get the free ebook with ads. I'm one of those that actually like book and writer ads (they help me keep track of the new books coming out). What I would pay for an ad-free version? Assuming the blurb and excerpt catch my interest and the author is one I like, up to about $7.00. If it's a writer I don't know, maybe a little less - $6.00. It also depends on the length, genre, whether or not I think I can get hold of the paper copy, etc. But mostly it hangs on the blurb and excerpt.

4. Others have pointed them out. The only thing I can add is that some inexperienced writers may have unrealistic expectations of how effective the ads would be. They may be disappointed if they don't get the expected returns for their investment...which may or may not result in a backlash for you.

5. I think it will work, but don't expect to see a huge jump - or even a tiny jump - in sales. For every one hundred people who see that ad, maybe only ten will go check out the book. And maybe one will actually *gasp* buy it. Maybe. But you're still getting your name out there, making people aware that you actually exist. And even if they don't buy this book, they may buy another.

Jude Hardin said...

If all the TV ads on Super Bowl Sunday were clumped together after the game, they would probably sell for about ten bucks too. That's because almost NOBODY would watch them.

Like you said, advertisements are an intrusion. They are tolerated, not sought. Who's going to finish a book and then read a bunch of ads?

Not me.

Sorry, Joe. I'm going to have to vote no on this one. I would have to question the value, even if I had the opportunity to place one at the end of a James Patterson book.

And, if publishers ever start putting ads between chapters, where they might actually be seen...

I don't know what I'll do. Probably spend my time and money on pre-cheesiness used books.

JA Konrath said...

Aren't you the guy who repeatedly denounced ads as the most ineffective way of promotion?

I also denounced them in this blog post. I don't believe ads work.

The rest of the world doesn't agree with me.

If publishing goes digital as music did, and books are traded freely, how will authors get paid, Mr. Anonymous? Any ideas?

JA Konrath said...

Who's going to finish a book and then read a bunch of ads?

I dunno, Jude. I've got thousands of paperbacks, and a almost all of them have ads in the back.

When I finish one I usually do flip to the back of the book to see if any other books are advertised, either by the same author or similar books by the same publisher. A few publishers even have order forms in the backs of books.

But we're not talking about the effectiveness of ads here. We're talking about the effectiveness of selling ad space.

People do sell ad space. Lots of it, in lots of different places. Why not books?

Jude Hardin said...

People do sell ad space. Lots of it, in lots of different places. Why not books?

I don't know. I guess I consider books one of the last ad-free sanctuaries we have. I would hate to see that change.

I know the world runs on money, and publishing is a business and so forth; but, don't you think publishers would have littered up novels with blue jean and perfume ads long ago if they could have convinced clients of their effectiveness? I've seen the ads in backs of paperbacks, too, but that's kind of like getting a Big Mac with a Quarter Pounder ad stamped on the box. They're advertising their own product, at practically no cost.

If publishing goes digital as music did, and books are traded freely, how will authors get paid, Mr. Anonymous? Any ideas?

I can't speak for Mr. A, but I think it's a good question for all of us. I imagine the solution will come through technology, same as the problem. Maybe some sort of encoding that would scramble the text, making it impossible for anyone but the buyer to use.

But frankly, I don't think print books will ever be totally replaced by digital ones. Digitalization was largely an improvement for the reproduction of music. No more pops and crackles on vinyl disks, no more tape hiss on cassettes, etc. There's no way digitalization can improve the reading experience. Good old ink and paper will never go out of style, IMO.

But maybe I'm just a dinosaur who needs to wake up and smell the circuit board.

I don't know.

JA Konrath said...

don't you think publishers would have littered up novels with blue jean and perfume ads long ago if they could have convinced clients of their effectiveness?

Newspapers and magazines need ads to make a profit. Books haven't needed them...yet.

Maybe some sort of encoding that would scramble the text, making it impossible for anyone but the buyer to use.

That's called DRM (Digital rights management) and is one of the main reasons the record industry collapsed. People want to be able to use their digital media where they like, not restricted by copy/read protection.

If you buy a CD, you can use it in your computer, your stereo, your car, and lend it to your Mom. When iTunes first began, songs had DRM, which meant you could use them on 1 computer only. People hated it so much that finally, after several years, iTunes now has DRM free selections.

I just signed a release with my audiobook publisher to take off DRM. It's a dinosaur that simply didn't work.

iPods improved on CDs in a dozen ways. Kindle can already improve of books in many of the same ways. Less to carry because it stores hundreds of books. No light needed to read. Adjustable font size (and the Kindle screen doesn't flicker like a computer screen, making it easier on the eyes.) Cheaper to buy books. And so on.

Plus, it offers an opportunity to make books interactive, the way DVDs are.

Think about a digital download that featured a video interview with the author. Or both the text and audio version. Or extra short stories as a bonus. Or the ability to highlight a strange word and instantly get a dictionary definition.

How about buying ten books by one author for less than the price of a conventional hardcover? Or for free, if easy of those books contained a Pepsi commercial?

Miss cover art? How about digital books that come with cover art, plus reviews, ads, book trailers, and even a musical score that plays as you read along?

When you're in an airport, looking for a book to read, you aren't limited to the selection at the airport convenience store. With WiFi, you can browse and buy (or get for free) EVERY book in existence, not just the 200 bestselling titles carried by Hudson.

The future potential of ebooks is limitless, once the perfect ebook reader is released.

But then, like the music industry, there will be people trading and sharing books over the internet. No author royalties in that.

So how will we make money?

I believe it is from advertising. Maybe adspace in books. Maybe product placement. Maybe online ebook clubs like Napster and EMusic that give a reader unlimited access for a monthly fee. Or maybe free sites that aggregate ebooks and sell adspace (Google, anyone?)

I don't think print will ever go away. But books are the only media that haven't caught up with the digital age. Music was first. Now Netflix.com offers instant dowloads, Tivo and cable On-Demand let us choose when to watch TV, and I just bought a new computer which came with a TV tuner.

Amazon and Sony are leading the charge. In fact, years ago I sold some short stories to Amazon, which are avilable to download for 49 cents.

Maybe, in the future, we'll be paid by Amazon, or by whoever creates the ereader iPod.

Maybe publishers will host interactive websites that sell books cheaply enough to stay competative with file-sharing and free media, but can still give authors their royalties.

Or maybe advertising will play a part.

Jude Hardin said...

Interesting possibilities, Joe. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

"If publishing goes digital as music did, and books are traded freely, how will authors get paid, Mr. Anonymous? Any ideas?"

All readers are not going to go digital. A percentage will, obviously, but there will always be a demand for paper books. Authors will get paid the way they always have.

Digital will actually INCREASE payments to authors. In Amazon's Kindle program, for example, all the publisher has to do is upload the book once, about a 15 minute project. The publisher then gets 35% of the sales forever, without having to invest any money whatsoever. Smart authors, of course, will demand a cut of that in their contract.

The base of readers will probably not change much, but the percentage of digital vs. paper readers will shift. No matter what format the reader is reading, the author should be able to negotiate a cut.

As for ads in books, give the poor readers a break. Life is cluttered up enough already.

Sponsorships will never work. The character or book or series may become tarnished for whatever reason. Unlike TV ads, the product link to the tarnished book cannot be pulled. Books tend to stick around forever, unlike TV and radio commercials that can be cut off immediately. In fact, I don't think that there is even very many sponsored products appearing in movies any longer.

The best way for an author to make money is write good books and then ensure that the contract has a cut of sales proceeds, no matter what the form.

JA Konrath said...

Digital will actually INCREASE payments to authors.

Look at the music industry. That isn't what happened. Mid-list bands can no longer survive by selling music--they make their money touring and selling T-shirts, and give the music away for free.

The best way for an author to make money is write good books and then ensure that the contract has a cut of sales proceeds, no matter what the form.

That's fine for 2008. Might not work for 2010. That seems like wishful thinking, or even worse, denial.

While I (dubiously) agree that authors might get higher royalties for ebooks as they become more popular (wouldn't it be nice if ebooks were $2 and an author got half of that?) the proliferation of file sharing and copying will result in less overall books being sold.

Look at CD sales, which continue to drop every year because people are getting music for free. You would think that digital music sales would rise equally, or faster, than the decline of CD sales. That hasn't been the case. Music stores are closing, and stores that sell CDs are reporting losses for that department.

More people are listening to music than ever before. But they aren't paying for it.

When ebooks are embraced the way we've embraced mp3s, there's no reason to think that history won't repeat itself.

The RIAA dug the whole music industry into a huge hole while trying to protect copyrights. They lost the battle.

If publishers do the same, they'll also lose. There is simply no way to control the distribution of digital media. Those who try, fail. And they also end up pissing off their customers.

Fans don't look at downloads the same way as they look at a physical CD or book or DVD. Whether it is morally right or not, people will continue to file share and trade their media.

It isn't hard to imagine a world without book stores, as we're already almost in a world without record stores. Who could have predicted that ten years ago?

So the question remains: How will authors make money?

Advertising is a possibility. Ads, and sponsorship, could fund the author, rather than sales. Ads fund TV, radio, sports, magazines, newspapers, and movies.

What makes books any different?

As for ads in books, give the poor readers a break. Life is cluttered up enough already.

I don't like ads. But I'm wracking my brain, and can't think of another way to make a living as an author with what I belive is going to happen in the future.

Anonymous said...

"I don't like ads. But I'm wracking my brain, and can't think of another way to make a living as an author with what I belive is going to happen in the future."

Joe, don't panic. Here's the bottom line. Publishers will find a way to stay profitable and stay in business even though the technology and print formats are, and will remain, in flux. All authors need to do is hang on to their publishers and be sure that their contracts are broad enough so that they don't get squeezed out of the profit (wherever the publisher may get that profit from).

Just be cool, dude, keep writing and forget about non-author get-rich things like ads. Your real worth is as an author, not an ad man. Stay where the value is.

Stacey Cochran said...

Have you ever thought of selling ad space on your blog?

The idea has been on my mind since getting the howtopublishbook.org site to rank in search engines. I've also read that Google Ads actually improve your search engine ranking with Google, as well.

Would you ever put ads on your blog?

JA Konrath said...

Publishers will find a way to stay profitable and stay in business even though the technology and print formats are, and will remain, in flux.

Tell that to the record companies, dropping bands left and right.

Publishers, and bookstores, may stay in business by diversifying. But they won't stay in business by digitally publishing midlist authors.

JA Konrath said...

Would you ever put ads on your blog?

No.

Dawn Firelight said...

"Would you ever put ads on your blog?

No."

May I ask why not, Joe? Just curious.

I agree that it's necessary to think ahead. Business models just don't remain constant forever. You might have noticed that these days we get our stories from books, movies and TV. We don't get them from travelling storytellers who tell a tale - or two - for their supper. How we transmit stories - and how storytellers earn a living - has changed radically in the past. It will change again, and I think it will change sometime within our lifetime.

Joni said...

Oof. Interesting concept and discussion.

I'm with the (minority?) crowd that wants ad-free books, thank you. Last bastion. Plus, I have to stare at an electronic screen all day for the day job and all evening for writing, so enough's enough. If that means I have to buy out my library's old tattered stock when they close up shop because nobody can read on paper any more, fine. There's a lifetime of classics I've missed.

One note on the music industry parallel -- it's not discussed much outside the professional realm, but anyone with an educated ear can hear a big downgrade in quality from CD to MP3 (and 1/4" speakers instead of 2-foot ones.) Not to mention the loss of the "storytelling" quality of an album, which is typically no longer listened to as related songs in order but as isolated tracks, rearranged or sliced-and-diced with other artists. That's a loss to the art. I don't know what the book parallel would be, but there might be one unanticipated.

Like it or not, I think the real answer to the "how are we going to make money?" question is the same for us as it is for most working musicians. It's called a day job.

Jude Hardin said...

Some good points, Joni. Also, we lost some subtle frequencies when music went from vinyl and analog tape to CD. And how in the world do people clean the seeds out of their pot these days, with no big double album covers?

Sonya said...

"There will always be a demand for paper books."

So many authors keep saying that. I've never heard anyone but an author say that, actually...

They said we'd never fly. They said the telephone was a ridiculous invention and it would never catch on.

There are no absolutes. Don't discount the possibility that not everyone loves books as much as authors. Of COURSE we love books. That's why we write them.

But we can't keep an entire industry afloat by selling our books to each other forever.

Pat Mullan said...

Joe,

Read my article,
THE KINDLE REVOLUTION.

It's on my blog. Leave a comment there if you like (that goes for anyone else too ):

http://patmullan.blogspot.com/

Slan go foill,
Pat

JA Konrath said...

This blog is meant to help newbie writers.

Using Google Adwords, or soliciting banner ads, would turn it into a pimp for POD presses, editing services, unscrupulous agents, and other companies that must advertise to prey on newbie writers.

I can support my fellow writers and their books on my website. I can support my fellow writers and their blogs on this blog. But neither will ever contain the type of ads that their demographic attracts.

However, if a non-publishing-related advertiser wanted to throw money at me, I'd consider it.

Heather said...

1. Would you pay $10 for a six month ad in one of my ebooks? Why or why not?

Yes, a thousand times yes. I'm of the newer school of writers who believe that it's time to look forward, rather than back, and I know what name recognition can do for you. Even if I made not a single sale directly because of the ads, maybe, just maybe, someone would buy a book next time because they saw my name and recognized it.

And maybe they'll tell their friends if they like it.

We all know how well THAT works.

2. Is $10 too much of too little? Is six months too long or too short?

I think they're both just right. Writers, especially those of us just breaking into the business, aren't made of cash. If I dropped ten bucks of my advance on it, it would be a worthy investment, to me.

3. Would you rather pay for an ebook with no ads, or get a free ebook that contained some ads? What would you pay for the ad-free version? Assume it's an author you enjoy.

Free with ads. I'm poor... poor of the food stamps and government aid type, not poor of the student type. I adore reading, and have not been able to buy new books in a long time. I want books I pay for to be something I can hold... but free online? I'll take a few unobstrusive ads for that. I hate advertising, but I accept it, and acknowledge its effectiveness. Advertising WORKS.

4. Did I cover everything? Did I overlook something?

I'd say you thought long and hard about this. :)

5. Will this idea work? Why or why not?

Who can say? I'd say you've got a 50/50 chance of making it work. Them's good odds, if you ask me.

If you're still doing this when I get my first novel published, you'll be seeing MY ad in your books. Count on it.

Jude Hardin said...

Aren't you worried about losing credibility in the publishing world with this stunt?

Using Google Adwords, or soliciting banner ads, would turn it into a pimp for POD presses, editing services, unscrupulous agents, and other companies that must advertise to prey on newbie writers.

Joe: I know this isn't your intention, but aren't you opening yourself up to critics who might say that by selling ads of dubious exposure in the backs of novels your agent couldn't sell, that you yourself are preying on newbie writers? The same critics might say, "If it's truly an experiment, why not offer the ads for free? Why not track them yourself to see if people actually look at them? Once you've established their value in terms of circulation, then you can charge people money and tell them what they're getting for it."

I'm just predicting what certain critics might say.

I think you're on the right track by thinking outside the box and trying to get a step on future tech trends, etc. But, like I said before, I would question the value of ads in the backs of books, same as I would question the value of commercials clumped together at the end of a TV show.

Conda said...

Joe, very intriguing and thought provoking post as are the comments. As a history major in college, I just want to add that when the Industrial Revolution occurred, most people anticipated and imagined change. In the huge majority of cases, their imagination was way off base. It's been said that the e-revolution is far greater than the Industrial...so we're in for a wild ride.

And I too, think us writers need to be as pro-active as possible, so thanks, Joe, for this great post.

Anonymous said...

This was actually done in mass-market paperbacks in the sixties. Publishers ran ads -- chiefly for cigarettes -- in books without the authors' permission, and authors got uniformly pissed off.

Eventually the phenomenon died of its own weight.

JA Konrath said...

aren't you opening yourself up to critics who might say that by selling ads of dubious exposure in the backs of novels your agent couldn't sell, that you yourself are preying on newbie writers?

An interesting thought, Jude.

My agent never attempted to sell 55 Proof and Distrub, so they weren't ever rejected by anyone (and 90% of 55 Proof was previously published in other venues).

I consider Origin and The List to be failures, but not because they aren't any good. They didn't find homes because they crossed too many genres, not because they were crummy, and I have the rejection letters to back that up. Remember that I wrote 9 previous novels, and have only made 3 of them available as ebooks. The other six were rejected because they weren't very good.

As for dubious exposure, these books have been willfully downloaded thousands of times by people who want to read them. That's an ad man's wet dream--a specific, targeted, active, focused demographic, with unlimited viral potential.

The experiment isn't about the effectiveness of ads. It's about free ebooks as a source of income for writers by selling adspace. Putting free ads in the back of my ebooks wouldn't teach me anything. Money has to change hands to prove that people would, indeed, pay for ads in ebooks.

I've been on record many times that I don't think most ads are effective. The rest of the world doesn't agree. But can you buy any ad anywhere else for ten measley bucks? Especially an ad with such a targeted demographic?

While POD and/or small press authors might be the initial ad buyers, I'd hardly call that preying on newbie authors.

Book doctors, vanity presses, and agents you pay, all cost big money and offer lies.

Now, I'm also on record saying that I think some ads do work: catalog ads. Quaretly publishing catalogs sell books the same way that the weekly Best Buy circular sells electronics: They contain items people actively are seeking out.

I believe ads for books in the back of books function in the same way. People who read a certain type of book often want to find more of that type of book. Its the smae principle as walking into a grocery store and picking up the sale paper. You may be there for something specific, but you also want to check out what else they're offering.

But again, this isn't about the effectiveness of ads. This is about the effectiveness of selling ad space.

So to answer your question, I'm not worried about opening myself up to critics. The more criticism, the better, because it makes me rethink and reanalyze my position and intentions.

Jude Hardin said...

I think ads work (although I'm personally immune to them), but I don't think they work very well for books. People buy books for a variety of reasons, and advertisements just aren't very high on the list.

So, for authors to make money on ebooks, I think we're going to have to find another solution.

Maybe we could sell them for $3.99 and attach buy one/get one free Whopper coupons or something. I'd buy that. Even if I didn't like the book, I'd still have something of value to take away. The author wins, the publisher wins, the buyer wins, and Burger King wins. That's what's going to keep us alive, I think. Everyone feeling like their getting a good deal.

It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

JA Konrath said...

Maybe we could sell them for $3.99 and attach buy one/get one free Whopper coupons or something. I'd buy that.

A good idea, but remember the big problem here; Ebooks will be shared and traded freely, resulting in lost sales.

Ads in the back mean the ebook would be free, so no lost sales.

Jude Hardin said...

Here's a thought, Joe:

Maybe, instead of following the music industry's losing model of having product available as internet downloads, we should take a lesson from the video game industry. Ebooks could be on cards specific to the reader and sold through brick and mortar stores and internet stores, the way audio books and print books (and video games) are now. The price could be set comparable to retail hardcover, but the buyer could still get the bonuses you mentioned earlier (author interviews, trailers, free short stories, etc.).

I just don't think letting the pirates have their way and depending on advertising dollars is the answer.

But I guess we'll see.

JA Konrath said...

Ebooks could be on cards specific to the reader and sold through brick and mortar stores and internet stores.

Sony tried that. It was called a Betamax. Better picture, and smaller size, than VHS. Remember who won that war?

As for the video game analogy, new gaming systems are the only way to play certain games. Books have many different formats, and can be read in a variety of ways.

r2 said...

But why follow the music industry at all? Everyone assumes that there will be a parallel path in the publishing industry. That books will go digital. Why?

Music went the way it did because there were market forces at work. The first digital format, CDs, was developed because the daughter of the president of Sony was tired of her records getting scratched up. No matter what audiophiles tell you about the warmth of records vs. other recorded media, the format was very fragile. You could get a brand-new record and hear tiny pops. And, the only time you heard a record at its best was the first time you played it. Each and every time you played it, the quality went down. It went down less with really expensive turntables, but it went down nonetheless.
In essence CDs offered three advantages that were very important to consumers:

1. Much less fragile.
2. Portable
3. The sound didn’t degrade with every playing.


When CDs first came out they were two to three times the cost of vinyl LPs.
However, unlike other technological breakthroughs, once they became popular the prices never came down. That was due to $100 million plus contracts by the Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. And then, other artists followed suit.

So then there were four more market forces at work that made digital downloads very attractive to consumers.

1. People were getting sick and tired of paying the high prices of CDs.
2. The product wasn’t as good overall.
3. Because of #1 and #2, the album format was over (people wanted to make their own mixes and they only wanted one or two songs from an album.
4. There was a demand for even more portability so people could take their music when they walked the dog, exercised, etc.

Advance technology itself doesn’t force change. Advanced technology that offers a consumer benefit that consumers want causes change. I haven’t heard a big outcry to reformat books. The digital format offers no consumer benefit.

1. It is MORE expensive.
2. The players are MORE fragile than either a hardback or paperback. (plus if you lose a paperback, it’s not the financial blow that losing a player would be).
3. Paperback books are probably more portable than e-books or your computer screen.
3 ½. This may just be me, but I find books in a digital format harder to read. That’s why it doesn’t really count.
4. Books are still more swappable.

In a free market, products succeed because you’re giving the people what they want or think they want. I see neither here. I think the digital format is going to be a fringe format, at least for the foreseeable future. I do not think it’s the inevitable future so many predict.

JA Konrath said...

Good comments R2.

But why follow the music industry at all? Everyone assumes that there will be a parallel path in the publishing industry. That books will go digital. Why?

While you make vaild points about the reasons consumers switched from LP to CD to mp3, I think you missed a few majors.

1. Space. 3000 CDs take up a lot of room. But I have a 500 gig hard drive, which can hold ten times that many.

2. Organization. I've got thousands of songs, which are automatically organized in iTunes, with cover art, making it easy to create playlists, switch around from artists to artist, and skip songs.

3. Simplicity. I don't have to haul CDs, bring them with me, change them, search for ones I've misplaced, etc.

4. Formats. I've got five speakers hooked up to my computer, to listen to music while I'm working. I've also got iPod hook ups for the cars, and for my entertainment center. One little gadget holds all my songs and plays on everything, including while travelling. Who wants to bring 30 CDs on a plane?

4. It's easier to buy music and share music with mp3s.

In short, mp3s are better than CDs, and that's where there was a change.

Ebooks could offer all of these possibilities as well, plus many more I've previously mentioned.

That's why Kindle isn't there yet. It's an alternative to print, but isn't a huge leap forward like iPods are compared to CDs.

I agree that products succeed because you’re giving the people what they want or think they want, and that we aren't there yet with ebooks.

But I believe we will get there.

Maria said...

I do read e-books as long as they are free. I don't care if there are ads at the back, but most likely I will ignore them (as I ignore most ads that appear in online magazines, whether they are at the middle front or back).

I would buy your books via Lulu in print--but I would not spend money to read an e-book (and I have read at least one of your e-books and it was fabulous, which is why I would spend actual money to buy a print copy of one I haven't read yet.)

Would I buy the ads...I dunno. Like you, I'm not a huge believer in return on investment of most ads. 10 bucks isn't a lot though so I'd consider it a better deal than a lot of other possibilities.

I always enjoy reading about your various experiments--even the weird ones. :>)

E.C. Morgan said...

I think this is an interesting conversation, because as a publisher in the newspaper industry, we are facing these questions daily.

However, I believe a couple of things.
First, the music industry isn't the perfect model to look at. It has a set up that is different - always has.

I have a friend who is a musician in a relatively popular punk rock band that has released six or seven cd's under contract. They've never made much off CDs. The bulk of their money comes from touring and merchandise sales. While I've not researched to verify, he tells me bands have never made much (and by much I mean a percentage of total revenue) from CD sales when compared to concerts and merchandise.

Don't think we can charge a couple hundred bucks for a reading and $35 for a t-shirt.

Will print die? No. But I do believe electronic publishing is going to change things dramatically. It remains to be seen how.

Video games companies have learned from the mistakes of the recording industry and made changes. You can now download games completely without having to go to WalMart or Best Buy. But you can't share the files. There's encoding that prevents DVD files from being shared ... though admittedly sites such as Limewire and Kaza have plenty of movies you can download.

Frankly, just like in the newspaper industry, it is an interesting and exciting time in publishing. Lots of changes are happening really fast.

One thing is certian. Authors need to make sure their rights are protected. Without someone representing them, they will get lost in the future. Maybe the guys from Metallica are available to help us out.

Finally a true story. I've been publishing for about 25 years now....non-fiction in magazines, a little fiction, and a lot of newspaper work. As the internet explosion started, sometimes I'd write an article and get paid for it and see it published in such and such magazine. Then, the darned thing would appear all over the internet.

The good? Exposure. The Bad? Me and/or the magazine should've been paid for those "reprints" online. Happened several times in the early days and I was both excited and pissed by it.

Anyway, I've babbled enough. It's 9 in the morning and I need to go save the newspaper industry.

catnapping said...

I've read that reading from a computer isn't the same as reading from a book.

Light eminates from the computer, while it only reflects off the pages of a book. Plus, the light coming from the computer is not actually continuous, but intermittent...flashing at an extremely high rate of speed.

I've read reports that say there's no real difference in the end, and I've read others saying just the opposite. I think as long as the jury's still out, maybe we should encourage our children to read from paper.

It seems to me that computers are only teaching our children how to get faster at things, when what our children need to learn is how to slow down and appreciate humanity. I think we're forgetting how to be people. And spending too much time on the computer is only adding to the problem.

...life isn't about eye-hand coordination; it's about interacting with life.

Christine said...

That's brilliant!

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