Posted by: David Thorpe | April 8, 2011

Brave new eworld!

How does the revolution that is sweeping the publishing industry affect authors who live in more remote areas – i.e., um, not London?

Traditional outlets for writers work are diminishing: libraries are being disgracefully closed, publishers are being far more selective and conservative in what they commission and there is much concern over the effects of ebooks on traditional sales and royalties.

Publishers benefit from higher margins on ebooks while authors receive less income than on the sale of the printed book.

The Office of Fair Trading is looking at the agency model of selling ebooks as used by Kindle/Amazon and, outside the UK, other regulators are looking at pricing, to see if fixing is going on.

However, it’s fair to say that publishers are still building the infrastructure for creating and marketing digital versions of their titles. I’ve had one of my books turned into an ebook and not even seen or been told of it – the first I found out was when it appeared on my royalty statement.

Look at it this way: 41 of the top 100 paid ebooks on Amazon are retailing for £1 or under, and Amazon has about a 75 to 80% share of the market. And this is on the rise. So where do we make any money?

The price of Amazon’s Kindle is coming down and the app is available on iPad, iPhone, and Google Android based tablets and smartphones; about one third of Kindle customers access Amazon e-books this way and not through the device.

Readers compare the price of printed books and ebooks and naturally expect the digital version to be cheaper.

So publishers are going to have to decide very soon whether they want to sell a great many ebooks at a low price or fewer at a higher price.

This is exactly what has happened in the music market.

Personally I believe that it’s better to ship a lot at a low-cost, because it quite often happens that readers then buy a print copy, perhaps to give away.

I also think that when you buy a print version of a book it should contain a key that could unlock a digital version for download – and perhaps in its turn the digital version could give readers a discount on a printed version, to promote sales.

Where does this leave us as writers? It means that we can in principle self-publish our books just as musicians have got completely used to publishing their own music on their own websites and through platforms like iTunes and TuneCore.

We used to look down on vanity publishing, but it is normal for musicians.

For those authors who live up in the hills or in a cabin by the beach (!), the internet should be making it easier for them to market their work – if they can manage the learning curve.

From their shack or their cottage, a self-publishing a writer can reach out to the whole world, potentially finding niche markets in the weirdest places, without being dependent on publishing agreements with national territories.

Sure, authors now need to know all about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on, and the websites that children use, they might need to have web feeds, videos, blogs and much more.

But another advantage is that we are communicating much more directly without audience and can get almost instant feedback on what they like and what they don’t like.

We can even produce different versions of our books with different endings! We can solicit responses to serialised work that will determine how it might continue….

Children and teenagers are growing up with this world and they naturally expect us to be there in it, as writers producing for them. It might be hard work for us, and not what we traditionally call “writing”, but perhaps we’re letting them down if we’re not.



  1. Of course, whatever we feel about all this, we don’t have any choice in the matter, so it’s sensible to go along with it if we can. It’s worrying, though , that ebooks are being downloaded so cheaply – writers make little enough money as it is.
    But I hope that whatever happens, there’ll always be a place for the book, the old fashioned untechnological book, with satsifying thick pages, a spine to bend back as you read, a shiny dust-jacket – and a quiet space in which to sit curled up as you read it.

  2. Does this mean I have to join Club Penguin?

  3. I’m very excited about e-books. As you say, the ease of worldwide distribution takes away most of the obstacles to self-publishing, and as a reader I love taking my Kindle instead of a paper book when I’m travelling. I still buy paper books, (often after reading the free sample of the e-version), so in a way they are helping to sell traditional books as well.

    Promotion is still the key to sales, though… my first e-book (a backlist title) is for sale on amazon at less than £2, but so far not many people have found it!

    PS. If you are thinking of doing it yourself, amazon pay up to 70% royalty and you can publish your titles through their Kindle Direct publishing platform. I’ve written a “Beginner’s Guide to Kindle Publishing” which attempts to describe the process on my blog at (click on page link near the top). Be interested to know if it’s of any help!

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