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More on chickens and eggs

An article on CNN titled "Are we spell-bound by e-books?" puts forth the notion of a "magic scroll"—an e-book reader with all the books you could ever want to read in one place. The article recaps the history of past devices (Sony, iLiad, etc.) and decides the Kindle is the closest yet to the magic scroll—close but no cigar.

CNN reporter Cherise Fong concludes that e-books won't succeed until they are plentiful, which of course puts the book reader in the classic chicken/egg conundrum. Publishers won't publish e-books until there's an established base of people with book readers, but consumers won't buy e-book readers until there's a big library of e-books available.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon has no doubts. Here's quote from the article: In response to the lingering fetish for the printed page, Bezos sighed: "I'm sure people loved their horses too, but you're not going to keep riding a horse to work."

A related post on GalleyCat describes author M. David Hornbuckle chatting with his small-press publisher about his career plan. The post references a subscription-only article but also includes a quote from Hornbuckle:

"A few weeks after I submitted my novella to Cantarabooks ... they offered me a contract to publish it as an e-book, sold exclusively on their Web site as a PDF file. The contract specifies that they will offer me a paperback contract once the e-book sells above a certain threshold, indicating that my readership is wide enough to justify the cost of printing. The terms are very generous; because of the e-book format, they have little overhead, and I make a 40 percent royalty on all sales."

This is the first time I've seen an e-book publisher offering this kind of deal. In a way, it makes a lot of sense—it shifts the risk to the author instead of to the publisher. Although I'm not sure "risk" is the right term in this case. I suppose it depends on how desperate (or self-confident) the author is.

Speaking of terminology, I think they could come up with a better term than "reader." I am the reader, dammit, not the Kindle or the Sony. How about making up something new?

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 19th, 2008 12:38 am (UTC)
Thanks for mentioning my article in your blog. There are a couple of points in the full article that don't get across in the Galleycat blurb. One is that while there's little risk for the publisher, there's really no risk on the author's part either, at least financially. Publishing with Cantarabooks didn't cost me anything, and no legitimate publisher should be charging fees to an author anyway. Also, according to the Cantarabooks contract, they offer a paperback contract if your e-book sells enough, but that doesn't mean you have to take it. If you get a better offer from someone else, you're free to go that route as well. They just have two year rights on the electronic version.

In my case, I really had nothing to lose because I didn't see a lot of other options for that particular novella manuscript, which is an odd story of an odd length--just not the sort of thing most publishers are interested in. Anyway, I had finished a full-length novel and was concentrating on finding a home for that, and I wasn't even particularly looking for a publisher for my novella at the time. But I took a chance on sending it to Cantarabooks because I stumbled across their website, and it sounded like the sort of thing they were looking for.

Cantarabooks isn't the only independent publisher offering this kind of deal. A few others mentioned in the full article are Electron Press, The King's English, and Zumaya Press.

M. David Hornbuckle
Jun. 19th, 2008 11:36 am (UTC)
Wow, thanks for the full scoop! Also for pointing out that your book is a novella, an important point from a marketing perspective. I wish you the best of luck with it!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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