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$2 a Word? Chump Change!
September 20, 2011 4:32 PM   Subscribe


 
I was going to write this ebook thing off as another fad, but a fan contacted me about doing a kindle version of a work of mine. Seeing nothing but gravy whether I believed in it or not, I agreed to let him do pretty much what the Atavist does for its authors; he converted it to Kindle mobi format, subject to my approval, and is handling all the dealings with Amazon. We are selling it for $2.99 and splitting the royalty at about a buck each.

Within 24 hours, with no announcement or promotion of any kind, we already had three sales. This suggests that a decent fraction of the people who run across the online version (a steady trickle even after almost 10 years) immediately check for Amazon availability, and when they see the cheap Kindle version they click "buy." It's really too bad this didn't exist for the original slashdotting.
posted by localroger at 4:52 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


So basically they care taking a 20% fee on top of Amazon's 30% fee for doing nothing except formatting the book in HTML? Or are they actually taking a 35% cut and giving the author the other 35%? (Kindle books are just zipped HTML)

When you're doing ebooks, there's zero need for a 'publisher' sitting between the author and the bookseller.
posted by delmoi at 5:03 PM on September 20, 2011


It's always a good thing when people pay a reasonable price for quality content.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 5:09 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm working with a number of my clients exploring ebook publishing opportunities - and the various business models. I helped Keith Devlin publish a short ebook Leonardo & Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Years (also available at Google Books, B&N, iBookstore, etc. - Amazon exclusives are a BAD idea) to release at the same time as his latest book from a traditional publisher, The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution, which it complements. But I did all the work of publishing (securing copyediting, cover design, file conversion) while maintaining my traditional literary agent relationship (and fee structure) with him. That fan of localroger taking 50% of net just to do an ebook conversion seems a tad steep.
posted by twsf at 5:15 PM on September 20, 2011


Also covered today in Columbia Journalism Review.
posted by cnanderson at 5:33 PM on September 20, 2011


When you're doing ebooks, there's zero need for a 'publisher' sitting between the author and the bookseller.

Unless you want, y'know, editing, fact-checking, publicity, and some level of signalling for the reader (e.g. if I see a brand I have liked in the past I have the feeling I'm more likely to enjoy subsequent work with the same brand). It seems that The Atavist provides all of this, looking at their website.

I don't think the model is new---the new part is moving this model from book publishing, where it has been the standard for decades (you get an advance and a cut of the profits) to article publishing (where traditionally you get an upfront fee and that's it). This has been enabled by E-books, since stand-alone 20-page dead-tree pamphlets aren't a format that sells well.
posted by goingonit at 7:00 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, I should point out that I was actually talking about "The Atavist" taking the 50%, not just localroger's fan. From the Observer article:
But it soon became clear that there were business advantages as well. Like most magazines, The Atavist pays a fee up front when a story arrives in decent shape. Mr. Dobbs called The Atavist’s fee “modest” when compared to the top-tier magazines. “It’s less than you would get either by word rate or total fee rate – unless you’re Michael Lewis,” he said. The big difference is that when the issue comes out, the writer gets roughly half the revenue the story generates. Which means a runaway hit by a mid-level writer, or even a run-of-the-mill piece by a marquee author, has the potential to rack up thousands, or in an extreme case, hundreds of thousands, in revenue for both the publication and the author.
Which means, obviously, that The Atavist could making hundreds of thousands of dollars off of converting an article into HTML -- it's ridiculous. Of course, they pay up front which you don't get with just throwing your book up on the kindle store, and they probably do some marketing as well.

Atavist is an interesting name for the company, it means 'reverting to prior form' and suggests savagery of some type -- I suppose they mean to recall the publishing empires of the prior century, that might be comforting to some writers who want write their stuff and send it off to someone rather then work in an environment where the reader has direct access to the 'slush pile' and writers who want to become popular have to be salesmen as well as authors. But 50% is a hell of a chunk to take out for a popular ebook author.

---

By the way, is anyone else annoyed by the fact that people aren't allowed to talk about how many digital items they sell at various stores? Youtube partners aren't allowed to tell anyone how much money they make. I can see why companies would want to do it: Amazon wants to be able to control information about how popular the Kindle is for strategic reasons, but it seems needlessly secretive.
posted by delmoi at 7:22 PM on September 20, 2011


Unless you want, y'know, editing, fact-checking, publicity, and some level of signalling for the reader (e.g. if I see a brand I have liked in the past I have the feeling I'm more likely to enjoy subsequent work with the same brand). It seems that The Atavist provides all of this, looking at their website.
The signaling thing could be handled by reviews, and not only that but Amazon's star system will let people know whether or not a book is any good. I don't think non-fiction books are fact-checked the same way magazine articles are anyway.

The question an author has to ask is: Will I make more money selling this directly, or through a publisher? If the Atavist boosts sales by more then 50.1%, they're a good deal. Less then 49.9% they're not. Also depends on how much freetime the author has, I suppose.
posted by delmoi at 7:30 PM on September 20, 2011


a conservative estimate would be that Michael Lewis earns something like $60,000 for every Vanity Fair article.

Wow.
posted by jet_manifesto at 9:35 PM on September 20, 2011


Hi. I'm the founder of Byliner, so feel free to ask any questions.

Delmoi, the scenario goingonit sketches is quite close to what actually happens with a Byliner title. We very carefully craft every ebook and do everything we can to protect the author's brand and ensure higher sales. At a minimum, that means editing, copy editing, fact checking, designing, and proofing every book -- as well as handling digital conversion and getting them into the digital storefronts. We do custom marketing and PR campaigns for each title, and provide an online destination that allows writers to use their existing magazine work to act as lead generation to expose readers to these new ebooks. In most cases, we also supply the idea for the book to the writer. (We have an editorial team that develops ideas and assigns them.) Most of these books wouldn't exist without Byliner, and even with all those author services we split revenue 50/50, on top of an assignment fee.

I'm not trying to sound altruistic. It's a good business for us. But more importantly, it's a good business for the writers we work with. And of course it's a boon for readers, who get all thse great stories by great writers.
posted by Scoop at 10:06 PM on September 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


and not only that but Amazon's star system will let people know whether or not a book is any good.

(Snickers.)
posted by raysmj at 11:43 PM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love the way some people seem to think that publishing an ebook is "doing nothing except formatting the book in HTML". Go have a look at (mefi's own) Charlie Stross' article on the economics of publishing. The writing is only the start. As Charlie says: a manuscript is not a book. Turning a manuscript into a publishable work that makes a profit for everyone involved requires editing, proof reading, book layout (you want your Kindle book to actually look like more than a stream of words don't you?), marketing and a whole host of other specialist skills. Yes, an author can do all stuff themselves but then they're working at more than simply writing. If you want to be your own publishing house, have at it!
posted by pharm at 6:53 AM on September 21, 2011


Very interesting piece in VF on the why publishing remains in many ways so old-school, still driven by gut and feelings, and the path by which a baseball novel about a shortstop ended up as a Big Book.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:53 PM on September 21, 2011


That fan of localroger taking 50% of net just to do an ebook conversion seems a tad steep.

In fairness, this was my suggestion, and I feel it's a worthwhile deal because if it had been left up to me there probably never would have been a specific Kindle version. The formatting was not trivial; a lot of HTML is not supported or works differently on the Kindle than it does on a normal browser, and the original HTML was all laid out for Netscape 2.0, complete with one-pixel images to indent paragraphs.

I have long since made a typical first novel's payback from tips and sales of the paper version (which I did design and lay out myself). I've sold about 500 copies of the paper version, which is mostly unheard of for a self-published work of fiction. If the Kindle version does exactly as well, my fan gets $500 which is a fair fee for the conversion process, I get a free $500, and it's all good.

My fan is taking the risk that the Kindle version will flop, but he has some faith both in my writing and the Kindle.

And if it takes off, why should I resent the fellow who had faith in the format getting half of $substantial_sum? I would after all have gotten zero percent of it left to my own devices.
posted by localroger at 1:43 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


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