Submit a link Features Reviews Podcasts Video Forums More ▾

Self-published ebooks: the surprising data from Amazon


Hugh Howey, author of the bestselling, indie-original science fiction series Wool, has published an eye-popping, and important data-rich report on independent author earnings from ebooks sold on Amazon. Howey makes a good case that the "average" author earns more from a self published book than she would through one of the Big Five publishers, and, what's more, that this holds true for all sorts of outliers (the richest indie authors outperform the richest Big Five authors; less-prolific indies do better than less-prolific traditionals, etc).

Howey's report includes a lot of raw data and makes a lot of very important points. It certainly is an aid to authors wondering whether to do business with major publishers or go it alone. I read it with great interest.

I think that there are a couple of important points that Howey skirts, if not eliding them altogether. The most important of these is that all the authors Howey studies live and die by the largesse of one company: Amazon. This is the same company whose audiobook division, Audible, requires authors to lock their products to its store with non-optional DRM, and which has no real competitors in its space. So it is neither an angel by nature, nor is it subject to strong competitive pressures that would cause it to treat authors well when its own self-interest would cause it to treat them badly. As bad as it is to have a publishing world with only five major publishers in it -- a monoposony in which a tiny handful of companies converge on terms and practices that are ultimately more to their benefit than those of authors, it's even worse to have a world in which a single company controls the entire market. That's not just bad, it's catastrophic.

The second point is the opportunity cost of being your own publisher: almost all successful authors have to do things that aren't writing in order to sell their books (all the hustling, touring, etc that comprises the writerly life in the early 21st century), but if you're your own publisher, there is an order of magnitude more non-writing stuff that becomes your job. Going the traditional route makes sense for writers who can earn more by writing another book than they can by spending that writing time being a publisher; it also makes sense for writers who just aren't any good at that stuff.

Now, this second point does not militate against self-publishing per se -- rather, it suggests a new kind of service-bureau/publisher that provides services to authors that sit somewhere between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Companies like Lulu, Bookbaby and Smashwords already do this, and many of the big literary agents are starting to do this for their authors, especially with their backlists.

But the first point is a significant concern. In the 1980s, when the midlist collapsed and the number of mass-market distributors in America fell from 400+ to three, and the trade retail channels for mass-market books were dominated by Barnes and Noble and Borders, authors discovered that their careers could be suddenly and totally ended, merely because the mass-market distributor stopped carrying them, or one of the retailers stopped selling them. Writers who'd published a new novel every year for decades suddenly found themselves with no one willing to publish, distribute or sell their next book, or carry their backlists.

That's what concentration begets. It's a major problem, and an existential risk to the market that Howey has identified. There are ways to improve the odds for indie authors -- a plurality of payment systems, lots of different search- and recommendation services, more companies providing services to authors. These, of course, are exactly the sort of thing that extremist copyright proposals like SOPA and the TPP work against: by making the companies that serve authors and their audiences bear the liability for infringement, we shrink the number of companies that supply authors and ensure that only big players like Amazon, Paypal, Apple and Google can occupy those niches.

Pro-competitive ground-rules won't solve the competition problem on their own, but without them, no solution is possible. As creators -- and as audiences -- we are all best served by a churning and chaotic retail and publishing channel, in which many companies compete to offer us all the best possible deal.

Read the rest

On the Road converted to ebook of Google Maps directions

Here's On the Road for 17,527 Miles, a 45 page ebook of driving directions for recreating the journey of Sal Paradise in Jack Kerouac's 1957 classic On the Road. Its author, German college student Gregor Weichbrodt, is selling it as a print-on-demand title via Lulu, in case you want a hardcopy to take with on your trip.

Read the rest

Kickstarting a kid-friendly steampunk graphic novel

Thom writes, "When our Kickstarter for a kid-friendly steampunk comic was 'kicktrolled' last November, the Internet quickly came to our rescue. And while we ultimately cancelled that project for fear of a repeat incident, we're back with a new campaign for a graphic novel of our webcomic -- and a possible way to make 'Crimson Rhen of the True North' happen!"

Read the rest

Sci-Fi Saturday Night podcast does a Story Bundle


Kriana sez, "On Sci-Fi Saturday Night (the podcast) we find and interview cool people who are doing incredibly cool things. Last August we had the privilege of talking to Jason Chen, founder of StoryBundle.com (and formerly of LifeHacker and Gizmodo), about his new site, alternative business models, and how we could support up and coming authors. After the show, Jason invited the cast to curate a bundle of our favorite indie authors, and we enthusiastically accepted."

Read the rest

Adobe ebook DRM changeover means

A lot of people are about to lose their ebooks. (Thanks, Florian!) Cory 15

Humble Audiobook Bundle: name your price for audio editions of "Junky," "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," "Blood Meridian" and many more!


You've only got two days left to take advantage of The Humble Audiobook Bundle, which lets you name your price for a stellar lineup of DRM-free audiobooks (this is practically the only way to get DRM-free audiobooks these days, since Audible, the company that controls 90% of the market, requires that publishers use DRM even if they object to it). The Humble Audibook Bundle selection includes Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses;" William S Burroughs's "Junky;" Meg Cabot's "Abandon;" Dave Eggers's "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius;" Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," Charles Portis's "True Grit," and many more.

The Humble Audiobook Bundle

Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!


Kevin C Pyle and Scott Cunningham's non-fiction, book-length comic Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun! is a marvellous and infuriating history of censorship, zero-tolerance, helicopter parenting, and the war on kids.

The comics form turns out to be just perfect for presenting this material. The book opens with a history of the fight over comics publishing in America, where the liar Frederic Wertham and his Seduction of the Innocents hoax led to a harsh regime of comics censorship, book banning, book burning, and decades of pseudoscientific vilification and dismissal of artists and the young people who loved their work. Presenting this story in a comics form only drives home how wrong Wertham and the Comics Code Authority were.

Read the rest

Who reads books in America, and how?


The Pew Internet and American Life project has released a new report on reading, called E-Reading Rises as Device Ownership Jumps. It surveys American book-reading habits, looking at both print books and electronic books, as well as audiobooks. They report that ebook readership is increasing, and also produced a "snapshot" (above) showing readership breakdown by gender, race, and age. They show strong reading affinity among visible minorities and women, and a strong correlation between high incomes and readership. The most interesting number for me is that 76 percent of Americans read at least one book last year, which is much higher than I'd have guessed.

E-Reading Rises as Device Ownership Jumps (via Jim Hines)

All library audiobooks going to DRM-free MP3s

Ben writes, "Overdrive, which is one of the main suppliers of downloadable audiobooks to public libraries, announced that it is retiring its DRM-encrusted .WMA formats and pushing everything to DRM-free .mp3s."

This is a big deal. Audiobooks are the last holdouts for DRM in audio, and one company, Audible, controls the vast majority of the market and insists upon DRM in all of its catalog (even when authors and publishers object). Itunes, Audible's major sales channel, also insists on DRM in audiobooks (even where Audible can be convinced to drop it). Audiobooks can cost a lot of money, and are very cumbersome to convert to free/open formats without using illegal circumvention tools. To stay on the right side of the law, you have to burn your audiobooks to many discs (sometimes dozens), then re-rip them, enduring breaks that come mid-word; or you have to play the audio out of your computer's analog audio outputs and redigitize them, which can take days (literally) and results in sound-quality loss.

Overdrive going DRM-free for libraries is a massive shift in this market, and marks a turning point in the relationship between the publishers/creators and the technology companies that act as conduits and retail channels for their work. It's especially great that libraries are getting a break, as they have been royally screwed on electronic books and audiobooks up until now.

Read the rest

Out on Blue Six: Ian McDonald's brilliant novel is back


For ten years, I've been singing the praises of Out on Blue Six, Ian McDonald's 1989 science fiction novel that defies description and beggars the imagination. It's been out of print for decades, but it's back in ebook form, and I was honored to be asked by McDonald to write the introduction for the new edition. Ian's given me permission to reproduce that intro in full -- as you'll read, this book is one of those once-in-a-generation, brain-melting flashes of brilliance that makes you fall in love with a writer's work forever.

Welcome, lucky reader, to a glad moment in literary history: the republication of Ian McDonald's magnificent 1989 novel "Out on Blue Six," a book I've read dozens of times, and by which I am still awed and delighted.

Read the rest

Congress requires publicly funded research to be publicly available

The new Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which Congress passed yesterday, contains an important -- and fantastic -- provision: it requires that scientific research funded by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education be placed in a free online repository within 12 months of their publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

There are some caveats (this only covers research from agencies with budgets of $100M or more) and it could have been better (immediate publication and all work placed in the pubic domain), but this is still a major stride forward. To be frank, it's well beyond what I'd hoped we'd get from Congress, who are traditionally more than willing to let private firms wall away pubic access from the research that tax-payers fund.

Here's the inside dirt from the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Adi Kamdar:

Read the rest

What's the most profitable price for an ebook?



Rachel Willmer, who runs the excellent ebook price-comparison site Luzme, summarizes the price-preference data she's captured from her customers. By measuring the point at which readers are willing to buy ebooks (whose prices are variable) and the volumes generated at each price-point, her findings suggest the optimal price for ebooks in different territories. This is important work: because ebooks have almost no marginal cost (that is, all their costs are fixed through production, so each copy sold adds almost nothing to the publisher's cost), there's lots more flexibility pricing strategies. If you make more by pricing your book at $0.01 than you do at $10, the right thing to do is price it at a penny and rake it in -- a rational business wants to maximize its profits, not the amount that each customer spends (I wrote about this at length in 2010).

Read the rest

Eight-volume hardcover set collects 4.7 million Linkedin passwords in alphabetical order


Artist Aram Bartholl's "Forgot Your Password?" is an eight-volume print edition collecting, in alphabetical order, all 4.7 million Linkedin passwords that leaked in 2012. Linkedin had stored the passwords in cleartext, which is a very, very bad idea. It will be shown at Munich's Unpainted media art fair in January 2014.

Read the rest

Kickstarting an anthology of diverse steampunk stories

Publisher Steven Saus sends us a Kickstarter for "a diverse steampunk anthology from your favorite award-winning authors, including Jay Lake, Nisi Shawl, Ken Liu, and Lucy A. Snyder."

Read the rest

All Norewegian books to be digitized, made available

The National Library of Norway has struck a deal to digitize all of its Norwegian books and make them available online to anyone coming from a Norwegian IP address. This is great work, and a model for other countries. (It probably helped that Norway's publishers enjoy a laudable program of subsidies and incentives, including funding to translate foreign titles into Neu Norsk).