Thu 30 Aug 2012
Darn it. Darn it all. Gigaom put on their swami cap and prognosticated about the future of e-books and I missed blogging about it. Oh, I saved it in my “to blog” list – but, I guess, the duck waddling in my head moved me in other directions. No matter – today is a good time to catch-up.
Back in January, Trey Ratcliff wrote a great piece for the Giga guys: “Why e-books will be much bigger than you can imagine.” One thing that makes the piece so persuasive is its author’s background. Mr. Ratcliff is a photographer who runs a travel photography blog called “StuckinCustoms.” He must be good at what he does because a few years back a trio of publishers approached him about writing a book. He picked a publisher, got a $20,000 advance and wrote a book called “A World in HDR.”
After the long haul of writing the book – a tough process as anyone who ever wrote one will tell you – he flew up to San Francisco for dinner with some big-wigs from his publishing company. They looked at him and asked him a question he never imagined. They asked: “OK, Trey, what are you going to do to market this book?” Ratliff says, “You could have knocked me over with a feather.”
Yes, that’s right quackers – the publisher expected the author to create and execute his own marketing campaign. And so he did just that. But it took scads of time and effort. For all that work, the publisher pocketed 85% and the author who spent so much of his own time marketing the book, made only 15%. After he added the numbers and weighed the effort, Ratliff started Flatbooks, an ebook publishing company that focuses on instructional books. His new business hit 6 figures fast, eclipsing his earnings from a traditional publisher.
In this era, Ratliff says:
It turns out that tech companies — especially Apple and Amazon — are the new publishers. And this is, of course, because their technology disintermediates all the component steps required for a physical book. We have all seen the numbers about the growth of e-books and how every category is impinging on the traditional book categories.
Ratliff says that even the rosy prognostications about the growth of e-books aren’t actually rosy enough. Those predictions err, Ratliff says, because they anticipate that for every dollar lost to traditional publishing, a dollar is gained by e-publishing. That’s off the mark because e-books are not on a one-to-one footing with traditional books. What’s the correct ratio?
This ratio is actually closer to 1-to-2 because people are collecting e-books like nuts for the winter. They are easy to buy and download, much like music. And, frankly, it’s fun to fill up your iPad with a colorful, robust set of thumbnails in your library. I don’t know why this is a good feeling, but it is.
Add to that, Ratliff notes, the marketing multiplier of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Ratliff has a large following on all three and his authors do too. All of the followers of each feed off each other. “It is a hyper-networking effect.This kind of behavior just doesn’t happen when people walk into a Barnes & Noble. It’s a completely different way of marketing and selling things.”
But as strong as the e-book business is, it is still just a ittie bitty thing – a toddler at best. Ratliff says:
It will evolve in many unexpected ways. There will be as many strange business models evolving as we see with music today. The marketing of these e-books will become increasingly social.
The spread of good books has always been a word-of-mouth phenomenon. Now, with social media, e-books are word-of-mouth-on-steroids.
Based on my experience as an e-book author and buyer, Mr. Ratliff’s piece is dead-on. E-books are immediately available. When you read about one in a blog and it catches your fancy, the buy button is just a click away – and it’s linked into the blog, tweet, comment or book review. No longer do you end up walking around a Barnes and Noble or Books A Million looking confused, and trying to remember the title of that romance you read such great things about.
E-books are cheaper than paper books and indie e-books are much cheaper than traditionally published books. In this economy, nothing sells as well as value. I have a first cousin who is a big used car wholesaler. He says that when the economy is good, the used car business is good, but when the economy is bad, the used car business is great. Indie e-books are a lot like the used car business, and more and more readers are giving work by new authors a shot and finding it a good bang for the buck.
And with bucks so scarce, don’t we all have to get all the gusto we can from each purchase?
Maybe e-books aren’t like used cars as much as instant grits. Like instant grits, e-books are cheap to buy, easy to read, and convenient to store. Plus, readers are blasted with tweets, Facebook posts and blogs convincing them to buy. So yeah, e-books have advantages that even Wal-Mart never imagined.
Given all that, e-books are a nuclear explosion waiting to happen. Can you imagine how large and how fast the e-book market will grow when the economy picks up? It’ll be e-mazing, e-stounding and you know what? It’s e-nevitable.