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Self-publishing gaining ground in the academics

[Graphic: Michael Morgenstern for The Chronicle of Higher Education]

While I don’t typically pay a lot of attention to academic publishing, I recently ran across a very interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on (mostly) young academics taking advantage of the new opportunities afforded to them by recent developments in self-publishing.The piece focuses on Clay Spinuzzi, a professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Texas at Austin, who decided to self-publish his third book Topsight: A Guide to Studying, Diagnosing, and Fixing Information Flow in Organizations. The article goes on to point out that there are a lot of common sense  reasons for the decision. By spending just “a couple of thousand dollars in freelance graphic design and copy-editing Spinuzzi will make back his financial investment after 300 copies are sold” due to the super high rate of royalties Amazon guarantees (about $7 a digital copy). Selling 1,500 copies will net Spinuzzi $10,000, the article points out. If he sold 15,000, a rare, but not entirely inconceivable number, he could walk away with more than$100,000.

These numbers are interesting, and Amazon’s royalty arrangement could pay off big given the right product, and this is where I think the story is really interesting. Spinuzzi says he doesn’t consider independent publishing a replacement for the traditional academic press. In fact, his next book will be published by one. Instead, he sees digital self-publication as “part of a larger ecosystem” and “a natural outgrowth of other unvetted work,” such as scholarly blogging and social media.In other words, digital publishing allows him a level of freedom (and a margin of profit) traditional academic publishing can’t, but it is also helping to create a new and, finally, viable type of writing. It’s allowing authors like Spinuzzi to write rigorous, researched books that have a popular appeal but carry academia’s mark of approval.

As we’ve seen with high profile Kickstarter campaigns over the last few months, studios and publisher’s are often conservative in their appraisal of a work’s appeal, and it’s probably just a matter of time before an author sees similar success (David Mamet is giving it an early shot according to The New York Times). Third-way options like self-publishing could be just the ticket to help  promote and distribute this type of new and refreshing work.

Worldreader delivers with mobile phones and eBooks

When we think of an ideal e-reader, we tend to visualize something like the Nook or Kindle or iPad — a device that has the dimensions, but not necessarily the heft of a book. Most us probably don’t think of our cell phones.

iPhones screens have remained relatively small and don’t lend themselves to sustained reading. While the Samsung Galaxy screen is big for a phone, it still doesn’t compare to the ease of reading on a tablet or Kindle. It might seem less than ideal for us, but for awhole sector of the world’s readers, cellular phones are now the central medium for reading eBooks.

In developing countries, where landlines have been skipped entirely and millions of people have directly adopted cell phones as their main interaction with technology,  eBooks are now being read in massive amounts on older, smaller phones that run off of a 2G wireless connection. The non-profit organization Worldreader, which used to just distribute Kindles to children in Africa, has now begun a mobile application where anyone with a mobile phone can access up to 1,400 eBooks for free.

Susan Moody, Worldreader’s director of marketing and communications, told the website Mashable that, “Feature phones are omnipresent in the developing world. They’re people’s lifelines; they’re where they get their access to payments and the Internet.”

Worldreader takes advantage of Creative Commons licenses to make available classic children’s books like Nancy Drew and Black Beauty. They also partner with larger publishers to offer such all-time favorites as Matilda and the Magic Tree House series. In addition, they offer a good amount of Africa-centric literature. Taking advantage of existing technological infrastructure to get kids hooked on reading is a wonderful idea, even if it puts eBooks on some unfamiliar territory.

Through the project, Worldreader has found some interesting (but somewhat predictable trends) — young women read a lot, and Romance is the most popular genre.

eBooks, often heralded as the end of publishing as we know it, continue to fight against that idea by introducing great works to even more readers everyday, readers who will search for even more books.

Would you ever read on a small cell phone screen with a slow 2G connection? Have you? What other ways can eBooks continue to reach out?

Image courtesy of WorldReader

iBookstore showcases indie books in new Breakout Books section

You might notice something new on your next trip to Apple’s iBookstore: You! Independently-published books will be prominently featured as part of Apple’s new “Breakout Books” section. Featuring titles from independent authors, the section will work to highlight books that have been highly rated, regardless of how they have been promoted or who published them. In short, taste will rule. And for independent authors, that is incredibly good news.

The books that will be featured will be broken down into four categories: Romance, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Mysteries & Thrillers, and More to Explore (we’re guessing that encompasses everything that can’t be easily put into a genre). This kind of attention, putting a book front-and-center in front of millions of prospective readers is a huge opportunity for independent authors. In the past, publishers would fight over this “front-of-the-store” space, usually reserved for books with huge initial print orders and authors with highly established reputations. Now, just by writing a quality book, authors can find their book with the type of promotion that usually comes with a high sticker price.

According to the New York Times (Apple to Highlight Self-Published Books), one of the main motives for getting behind independent publishers was their pricing: independent authors sell their books at significantly lower costs than major titles (those produced by major publishers). This pricing model encourages readers to buy more independently published books than they would more expensive ones, further democratizing the marketplace.

While “Breakout Books” will not always be the center of attention on the iBookstore, it marks a major change in how digital booksellers are respecting independent authors and how quickly the marketplace is changing. In what was once a field dominated by six major publishers, there are now thousands of people each acting on their own, letting the quality of their work act as their best publicity.

As readers, would you buy a book that has been highly rated by other readers? As writers, how do you think this will change independent publishing? Do you know of any other digital bookstores that have this type of promotion? Let us know!

Print Books Bounce Back

The reports of the death of the printed book have been greatly exaggerated.

Sales figures from the end of last year show that while they don’t dominate the marketplace as they once did, print books are showing a good amount of resiliency during the precipitous rise of eBooks and the shifting of content from the printed word to a digital sphere. According to the Wall Street Journal, the role of eBooks might have been greatly overestimated. “It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audiobooks — a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.”

It’s fair to say that a seamless transition from printed books to digital ones just isn’t happening, and the marketplace that we live in now — where both printed books and eBooks are having brisk sales — might be here for some time. According to a 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research, 59% of Americans say they have “no interest” in buying an eBooks. While I believe that this number will go down as more and more Americans familiarize themselves with reading on digital devices like tablets, it goes to show just how much of the population is still wedded to our old friend, the printed book. This transitional market bodes well for authors looking to explore multi-platform publishing, as they will be able to test the waters of both a digital and print readership, and see which one works best for their content.

While it doesn’t appear the the rise of eBooks has stopped in its tracks, it has definitely slowed. When it comes to eBooks, a lot of consumers and providers are still working out the kinks. Publishers are still trying to figure out how much they should cost, while libraries are desperately trying to make them widely available to the public. In the goodwill of making eBooks and an author’s content as widely available and as equitable for both the reader and author as possible, Lulu recently said goodbye to DRM. So while the market has definitely shifted over the past few years, we won’t be living tomorrow in a world without the printed book, and probably won’t for years to come.

High Demand for eBooks in Libraries

The American thirst for eBooks keeps growing, and yet, one of the cornerstones of the American reading scene is still not a big enough player: libraries have yet to offer enough eBooks to accommodate the recent surge in digital reading. According to a new study, 53% of American readers feel that there should be more eBooks in libraries. If the demand is there, why aren’t more eBooks available?

The answer is a little confusing. Large publishers are wary of offering digital titles to libraries for fear of losing some of their market. However, study after study has proven that readers who go to libraries and read eBooks, end up buying even more books than those with only the option of buying eBooks online. Until the publishers come to a consensus about how best to lend eBooks, the amount of eBooks in libraries will still remain below the apparent demand, and this is bad news for readers.

“The availability of eBooks isn’t happening fast enough,” says Christopher Platt, the Director of Collections and Circulation Operations at The New York Public Library. “The availability hasn’t kept up with the demand. The demand is there. Our eBook usage over the last few years has risen six-fold.

Libraries play a huge role in promoting technology adoption. From the Internet to tablet computing, libraries are where many Americans go to familiarize themselves with new technology. Typically, when publishers do allow eBooks to be lent by libraries, they charge them an exorbitant amount of money, virtually fleecing a public institution.

“It’s an education thing, also. We need to make sure library users are aware that we offer eBooks to begin with.We offer more workshops than we ever have,” Platt says. “The publishers have to wrestle with a new business model, but they need to allow us to do this. This train has already left the station and it’s a question of whether you’re driving the train or holding onto the caboose for dear life. This is just going to become even more exciting for libraries and how we interact with patrons.”

But this stand-off between libraries and large publishers might not last much longer: a new bill in Connecticut proposes forcing publishers to charge libraries the same amount they would charge the general public. If the bill gains support, expect similar legislation to take off nationwide.

Still, the publishers’ loss is independent authors’ gain. A smaller browsing section allows more independent titles to gain visibility and find both circulation and reputation.

Related Post: Are eBook borrowers eBook buyers?

Are eBook borrowers eBook buyers?

The struggle to get eBooks into libraries continues. Large publishers seem to be at an impasse, unsure whether giving libraries the rights to their books will drive down sales. Independent publishers, on the other hand, have been making their own eBooks available to libraries for some time, be it independently or through a platform.

For authors, libraries are a great way to broaden readership, but does it also help the bottom line? What we really want to know is: Are eBook borrowers eBook buyers?

According to a survey (New Survey Supports That Ebook Borrowers Buy, Too) conducted by the library-lending platform Overdrive and the American Library Association (ALA), readers who borrow eBooks from a library also end up buying more than three eBooks per month. Not only do readers who use digital libraries end up buying books, they’re actually more enthusiastic to buy after a visit to the eBook library.

“Library lending encourages people to experiment with new authors, topics and genres — which is good for the entire reading and publishing ecosystem,” Carrie Russell, director of the ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, said.

With the major publishers slowly, and hesitantly, entering the library market, now is a great time to get an eBook into the library, especially when selection is so limited and the appetite so huge. According to the survey, over half of respondents would consider buying an eBook they encountered on a library site, and almost 60% considered the library their main interaction with new titles. (For us, who follow books tirelessly on the Internet, that seems nuts! But this proves that libraries still play a huge part in book culture and book promotion).

It will be interesting to watch over the next few months how the transition of eBooks into libraries goes. It might be the perfect opportunity for independent publishers and independent writers to gain a foothold in a voracious marketplace, one that’s not as conventional as a bookstore, but is deeply entrenched in the book-reading ecosystem nonetheless.

Would you offer your eBook to a library? Have you? Do you believe the results of the survey or does your own experience tell you otherwise? Let us know in the comments.

eLumes brings innovation to eBooks

Another day, another innovation in the field of digital publishing. New York based tech startup Orson & Co. has announced a plan to totally overhaul the concept of the “enhanced eBook” — just don’t call it that to their face. According to a recent piece on DigitalBookWorld.com, Orson & Co believes that a  truly immersive eBook experience, one that takes full advantage of the medium’s potential, isn’t being delivered to readers and they’re out to change this.

Orson & Co.’s new product, eLumes (a pun on “illuminate,” if I’m not totally off the mark) is essentially publishing iOS apps that mimic eBooks. According to the same report from DigitalBookWorld, the first such project by the company, (an eLume version of Orson & Co. co-founder Richard Mason’s The History of a Pleasure Seeker) “has several enhancements, including original images, original audio files, author videos, original essays diving into the historical context of the novel, and archival images… [as well as] A read-along feature narrated by Dan Stevens, star of the hit BBC drama Downton Abbey.” Mason maintains that the format “makes a new kind of storytelling possible.”

I’m not totally sold on the bells and whistles eLumes seem to promise, but the folks at Orson & Co. acknowledge that previous attempts at an immersive, multimedia eBook have fallen a little flat — they seem gimmicky, or too unlike, well, a good old fashioned book. What Mason seems to be arguing is that these apps can take real advantage of this new technology and deliver an interesting new experience. And that, I will admit, intrigues me.

These days I tend to read with a smartphone or laptop close at hand, Googling unfamiliar words, Wikipediaing historical events or concepts as they appear. These technologies help expand what I read. They help me experience an exploded version of a book, in a sense, one where I can examine all the parts. While this may be a far cry from a book with embedded video or a novella with a soundtrack, it’s not totally removed. I’m curious what a multimedia eBook could offer, especially if it’s pursued with the integrity Mason seems keen on delivering. What do you think: Flashy distraction or added depth?