Notes From A Singaporean Self-Publisher
Much digital ink has been spilled over the topic of ebooks and self-publishing. Today’s TODAY carried an article on e-publishing. It is an interesting report on the state of e-publishing on Singapore. The writer discussed the usual aspects: attitudes of writers towards ebooks, how publishers approach ebooks, distribution of ebooks in Singapore.
Except for one thing.
E-publishing enables writers (like me) to self-publish.
And that is a shame. The biggest benefit of the ebook revolution is not the ability for publishing houses to publish digital books across various media. It’s the ability for independent writers to cut out publishing houses and literary agents, and sell books directly to the consumer over the Internet.
This brings many benefits to the independent writer, and I’ve written at length about a few of them. I’m going to highlight just one , the one that matters most to Singaporeans. (And, okay, quite a few international readers.)
Take a look at ilovebooks.com and skoob.com, two of Singapore’s ebook stores. Look at the prices. The prices you see are almost the same price as a physical paperback or hardback book. Those prices are, frankly, almost absurd. It is far cheaper to produce an ebook than a print book. Print books require material costs — ink, paper, binding — for production, followed by warehousing and distributing costs. And that is before you factor in marketing, editing, and other costs. Ebooks are just so many electrons; the main costs of an ebook are the cover, editing, formatting, and maybe advertising.
In TODAY‘s article, publisher Philip Thatham argues that “It’s a fallacy to think e-books are cheap to produce. New costs are introduced for metadata management systems and e-book conversion.”
To this end, I challenge Thatham to reveal the full costs of producing an ebook versus a print book. I handle my metadata management using Microsoft Word and calibre. The former comes with my computer, the latter is free software. Ebook conversion isn’t a problem for me, because I write and format my books specifically for ebooks (and, as a bonus, they can be translated easily to print). I publish here, on Amazon, and on Smashwords, and there are no conversion costs.
My metadata management and ebook conversions costs are zero.
My ebook costs, to date, are $429. That’s how much I paid for three covers. I’m blessed with friends who make superb line editors and decent copy editors, and I spend weeks on proofreading — my editing costs are zero. At least until I can afford professional editors. I got the first cover done for free after searching for a deal on the Internet. Because I write my books according to style guides, I don’t have to hire anybody to do formatting (yet). And since I’m dealing with electronic products, I don’t have to pay for the costs of physical books. I can push out fairly high-quality ebooks at obscenely low costs, even by the standards of the self-publishing world. And I’m passing on these savings to my readers.
Thatham was really talking about costs to the publisher. The publishing house needs to hire more staff and develop new infrastructure to handle ebooks. Especially if they have existing staff and infrastructure costs to handle an existing print catalogue. To print publishers, adopting ebooks means greater costs.
And the publishers pass on the costs to the reader.
And if the publishers approach online distributors to sell ebooks, those distributors would want a cut too.
That’s why the books on skoob and ilovebooks have prices that rival print books. Much of that money is going to the distributor and to the publisher. When dealing with a publisher who prefers to sell print books than ebooks, the print books will be deliberately priced lower than ebooks — or ebooks priced higher than print books. These factors artificially inflate ebook prices to the figures we see on those stores.
Plus, as bestselling writer J A Konrath points out, writers are necessary. Publishers aren’t.
I price my ebooks at much lower prices because I can afford to. I don’t have as much costs to cover as a big publishing house. Since I publish my stories, I have full control over pricing, too. In addition, I make 70% royalty from Amazon.com and Smashwords (less 30% to the Internal Revenue Service), and 100% when readers purchase ebooks from my ebook store. My customers win because they get quality books at low prices, and I win because I make a take a much bigger cut of royalties.
TODAY ‘s article covered several writers whose books are sold as ebooks. I’m very curious about the royalties the authors receive. Do they come close to the percentages I make? I’m betting not.
Right now, my ebook pricing is fairly simple:
Short stories (up to 15K words) — USD $2.99
Novelettes (15K to 35K words) — USD $3.99
Novellas (35K to 50K words) — USD $4.99
Novels (50k words and above) — USD $5.99
Will ebook publishers match these prices?
Not in Singapore. Not anytime soon.