Aliske Webb has been an unpublished author, a self-published author, a NYC published author and is now the Publisher of Bookmice.com, a royalty-paying electronic publisher of quality fiction and nonfiction. Her email address is: aliskewebb@bookmice.com

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eBook Bytes

This month: "A Different Slant." Beyond the technology issues of paper versus pixels, the ebook price war, the quality content dilemma, and copyright/piracy issues, there are some fundamental differences in the ways e-publishers and "p-publishers" operate
One of the main differences and, I think, one of the strong advantages that e-publishers have over mainstream publishers is a more viable backlist. Because ebooks virtually never go out-of-print, a title can remain on a backlist indefinitely, and, other than its initial setup and promotion expenses, does not incur any further paper or warehousing expenses. It's held in a sort of limbo and not actually produced until ordered--something Print-on-Demand publishing is trying to exploit. Because of this, a book has a longer shelf life and therefore a better chance to recoup its investment. This means e-publishers can "afford" to take a chance on more "marginal" works, experimental works, or ebooks that by their very nature will take a long time to develop a sales flow. This is good for the publisher, and for the authors, and hopefully in the long term better for the quality and breadth of books available to the public.

In traditional publishing the market is well known and well defined. Publishers "sell" their books to bookstores--although with the returns policies of the distributors such as Ingram and the bookstores themselves, this is more like consignment selling--but for the purpose of this exercise we can say that they sell to bookstores and vie for visibility on the shelf. There are finite numbers of these outlets, given that a few new ones come into business or go out of business at any point in time. Paper publishers in general don't sell direct to the consumer and their specialized niche marketing often goes no further than having a book classified and shelved in specific categories, whereas, electronic publishing developed primarily as a direct-to-the-customer business and only latterly have begun to be "distributed" through portals such as Barnes& Noble, Amazon, et al and online bookstores.

As a result, publishers' marketing strategies are substantially different. A paper publisher has to have a two-tier marketing program, one level geared at appealing to the bookstore and in support of how a bookstore operates, and a second level of promotional material directed to the consumer for bookstores to utilize. E-publishers on the other hand retail to the end user, and many eschew ignore any distribution networks completely. The good news in this regard is that the consumers are global via the Internet. It is (potentially) a bigger market but a much more nebulous one. The bad news is that it is harder to define the consumers demographically and attract them to the e-publishers website.

People are used to buying paper books at a bookstore, and more and more, buying them online at a few online bookstores. People are not used to visiting individual publishers to buy books, which is what they have to do on the Internet unless they are buying at a portal like B&N. This is why the most successful ebooks are the ones that can be effectively niche marketed to specific groups of people online, and why some of the most "successful" e-publishers are the small "boutique" publishers who are genre-specific, have very few titles, and can exploit a very narrow slice of the market. They may have difficulties when they expand or move out of that niche. It is much harder to market mainstream fiction ebooks, and the readers of these books are much harder to define and capture on the net.

Most p-publishers normally produce a fall and spring catalogue of new releases, which goes out to bookstores and to the distribution network. It's like a machine or a system, which processes the same way each time (although the specific content changes seasonally). It's an effective use of time and resources. Most e-publishers don't keep to a twice-yearly new release schedule but rather release new ebooks whenever they have completed production thereby losing the efficiencies of "cataloguing" their marketing efforts (In fact, this is something that we are now trying and instigating at Bookmice.com).

In essence, every e-production is a one-off, with singular promotion attached to it. And this is where there is the biggest difference. Because it is harder to promote individual ebooks into the vast marketplace, e-publishers have to rely on author participation much more heavily than paper publishers do. Although paper publishers are also looking for author participation, even if an author does no promotion at all, a paper publisher can anticipate a certain level of sales by simply putting the book in enough bookstores.

An anecdotal insight: one of my first publishers turned out to be an extremely negative scenario for me and we are fairly "uncooperative" with each other, as a result I have never participated in any of their promotion and yet my book through them has sold well and paid me royalties (In fact, they are quite happy and do quite well without me ). In the past, in this way, it almost didn't matter whether there was an amicable relationship between author and publisher or not. Conversely, as an e-publisher now, I can clearly see which authors engage in active self-promotion because it is directly related to the sales of their books and resulting royalties. As a publisher we promote each book exactly the same, the different levels of success are, sadly to say, the result of author participation.

This means e-publishing is much more of a co-operative effort in every aspect. The very nature of the amorphous Internet means it is almost impossible for a multiple-genre e-publisher to undertake the in-depth niche marketing for each individual ebook that it requires--especially if the publisher has dozens or even hundreds of titles in print. The author, however, has usually only one or two (or a few at most), ebooks to promote and can hopefully devote their specific attention to doing so on the 'Net.

By the way, it's a whole lot easier working in front of a computer screen in your pajamas than trudging to bookstore signings. It is also easier for the author to engage in this activity because they supposedly "know their market" and may already have inroads with chat groups and special interest groups where they can comfortably promote their works, ask for reciprocal links and offer added-value items that garner them a hot link in a byline --which are all low-key, non-threatening "selling" techniques that even the most reticent author could feel un-intimidated by. I find many authors quite excited by the unlimited opportunities for promotion and the chance to take an active part in this endeavor.

For this reason, it is even more critical to find the right fit between author and publisher and develop a mutually supportive working relationship--without it, both sides will end up disappointed--and this whole ebook market is too young and tender to have bruised egos, unfulfilled expectations, and disheartened souls crush it in its infancy. My hope is that this partnership between e-author and e-publisher grows stronger, with both sides recognizing the importance of the contribution made by the other. One way that most e-publishers recognize this contribution that the author makes is by paying out higher royalty percentages. In return, I'd like to see more authors take their share of the promotion and move away from the I-write-it-you-sell-it mentality that many authors have had in the past. We've all heralded e-publishing as a revolutionary development and as such it truly requires every one of us, in our separate capacities, to rethink the way we have done things in the past, develop our flexibility, and constantly look for new opportunities. .


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