Comparing the Ebook Submission Process: Self-Publishers v. Publishers

I recently wrapped up a freelance project with a small publisher, where I uploaded/submitted ebook files and metadata to Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google. In the process, I thought about the similarities and differences between how a self-publisher would go about distributing an ebook versus a publishing company that is submitting files themselves instead of using an intermediary such as Ingram.

One of the biggest differences is that regular publishers have the option of also distributing and selling enhanced ebooks. However, currently only Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble accepts and sells enhanced ebooks. For this particular project, I worked with standard ebooks and enhanced ebooks which contained video files.  Continue reading

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iBooks Author Templates

Ebooks come in a few different formats. I write a lot about EPUB and MOBI/KF8 on this site, which are the formats used by pretty much everyone (Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google, Sony, etc.). But there is another format: iBooks (iba).

Apple sells EPUB, but the company also developed their own proprietary format in early 2012. If you have a Mac, you can download the iBooks Author program for free and design and publish ebooks to the iTunes store. iBooks are different from EPUB and MOBI in that you can create interactive elements with a drag and drop interface. iBooks also tend to look best with very visual books.

At first, I wasn’t too impressed with iBooks Author (read my post, “iAuthor“). But since it  launched, iBooks produced using the program have gotten more and more impressive. New services that cater to iBooks have also made the process of creating these ebooks much easier.

One site that stands out is iBooks Author Templates. Founded by Jess Barkell, the site offers 49 elegant templates. Jess kindly answered some of my questions about iBooks Author Templates. Continue reading

App Zine Machine, An Easy Way for Indie Authors to Publish Magazine Apps

App Zine Machine

When it comes to digital publishing, indie authors have endless options. In addition to ebooks, authors can produce blogs, podcasts, and even digital magazine apps.

One new platform that makes it easy for users to publish magazines is App Zine Machine. Created by App Clover, LLC, a resource in the mobile app market, App Zine Machine launched after 21 months in development.

“Everybody has a blog, everybody has a website, some people have podcasts,” Len Wright, CEO and co-founder, said. “Very few people out there publish their own magazines. It has a special, we call it cache or panache, jokingly.”

App Zine Machine is a web application that uses HTML5. The platform makes it easy to add video, audio, or other interactive content that actively engages an audience. Users assemble their magazines in the application and then export them as apps for sale in Apple’s Newsstand.

Wright said that App Zine Machine was made for writers, entrepreneurs, and businesses who are passionate about publishing and want to build up their brands but either may not know or may not have the time to make complicated apps.

“I’m not a coder or a techie,” he said. “I’m not a programmer whatsoever. I don’t even know HTML, so for me a lot of the systems out there were just a no-go from the start.”

With App Zine Machine, all users need is an Internet connection, he said, though Chrome is the best web browser to use.

“You can be anywhere in the world and create a magazine,” Wright said. “You can even do it from the iPad.”

Continue reading

Freebie Strategies for Indie Authors

UPDATE: Author David Gaughran has also kindly answered a few additional questions. 

Using free as a tool can be very beneficial to authors. When Amazon first started their KDP Select program, many authors were able to take advantage of the five freebie days offered during every 90-day exclusivity period, and shoot to best-selling status. However, Amazon has since changed its algorithms, and as CJ Lyons pointed out on Jane Friedman’s site, KDP Select is not the same tool it used to be.

Now, some authors are using other freebie strategies to promote their books, including making some of their titles permanently free (permafree). One way to do that is to price a book free on Smashwords, and wait for other distribution sites to price match.

Inspired by a student in my Udemy course How to Create Beautiful E-Books who asked some excellent questions on how to set e-books free on multiple sites, I reached out to a few authors to ask them about their experiences.

Three authors, Keith RobinsonSusan Kay Quinn, and David Gaughran shared with me. Keith Robinson is the author of the sci-fi/fantasy Island of Fog series for ages 9+, Susan Kay Quinn is the author of YA sci-fi Mindjack Trilogy, as well as the Debt Collector series, and David Gaughran is the author of Let’s Get VisibleLet’s Get Digital, and A Storm Hits Valparaiso, among others. Continue reading

Self-publishing ebooks: Why maximizing distribution matters

New technologies and startups have made it easier than ever to self-publish ebooks. But they don’t make it any easier to make a living writing. The most important thing you can do as a self-published author, however, is to make sure your ebook is available through as many retail channels as possible. (FYI, ebook sales accounted for 20% of book sales in 2011, up from 10% in 2010. Good sign!)

Think about it. If your ebook is not available, then no one can buy it. So the best way to help boost your sales is to make sure your ebook is available for purchase. If you’re self-publishing an ebook, you’re an entrepreneur, and that means you should to put in as much effort as possible (yes, this means using your valuable time), to sell your product.

Continue reading

iAuthor

Three weeks ago, Apple launched an exciting new app: iAuthor. It sounded very promising. Using iAuthor, you can drag and drop to make enhanced ebooks. iAuthor and iBooks2 were released on the same day with the intention of making it easier for students to use interactive textbooks. All textbooks sold on the iBookstore are priced at $14.99 or less. But anyone can use iAuthor to make their own enhanced, interactive ebooks and sell them on iBookstore. At first, the articles about iBooks2 and iAuthors was very exciting. 

After a few days, however, all the restrictions and drawbacks became apparent. On top of that, recent data shows that e-textbooks are not that popular. Although 46% of students are interested in buying textbooks on an iPad, only 10% actually use a smartphone or tablet for classwork.

My co-workers and I sat down on Tuesday to experiment and learn as much about iAuthor as we could so we could determine its usefulness for Simon & Schuster. Here is some of what we found:

Pros

  • drag and drop is easier than coding, for certain things
  • The widgets are cool, especially the interactive images
  • iAuthor outputs an ebook that is both fixed format and reflowable, so you don’t have to design twice (vertical and horizontal views)

Cons

  • If you’re used to programs like InDesign, then iAuthor feels clunky and a little disappointing
  • Crack open the ebook, and you’ll see some very messy code
  • It still takes a lot of time and effort to make a beautiful ebook, and these types of ebooks only apply to certain books (cookbooks, highly designed books, etc.)
  • Apple only penetrates 10% of the ebook market, and if you make a book on iAuthor you can only sell it via Apple
  • Because an iAuthor book is in the .iba format, there’s a chance one day this format will be outdated and unusable, and you will have no way of accessing the book you worked so hard on

My personal opinion is that iAuthor is great if you’re designing a digital-only book. You’ll have to plan to take advantage of the widgets, because a text-only ebook will not be worth making in this format. However, you should also be sure that your target market uses iPad, since they are the only ones who will be able to see it. Still, for people who don’t know programming, this is a good tool (though not terribly easy to use, at first).

It’s too bad that everyone is using their own proprietary formats. This makes things more complicated for everybody, and consumers suffer because they have to have multiple tablets and ereaders to access all their content. This also limits creativity, since ebook producers have to spend all their time formatting ebooks for all devices, instead of being able to think of cool new features they could add via one universal program/format.

This Week in Publishing

Apple and Google are offering publishers different ways to charge for their content. For one thing, Apple will take a 30 percent cut of subscription revenue and will work with the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, while Google will only take a 10 percent cut and will work with tablets, smartphones, and websites. But an even bigger difference between the two models is the fact that Apple will give consumers the option to give publishers information about themselves, while Google will, by default, give publishers information about their customers.

On the one hand, according to Larry, Apple is just like Amazon, where you can buy products “without worrying about that merchant getting access to your information.” But on the other hand, publishers have traditionally had access to information about their customers, especially magazine publishers, and they have rarely misused that information.

Larry says his problem with Apple lies with the fact that “IOS devices are a relatively closed ecosystem,” meaning Apple can censor its apps for reasons “ranging from duplication of existing apps to its efforts to keep porn and malware from being used on its products.” This means Apple decides what is right for its customers, instead of allowing them to choose.

For publishers, it’s vital to use both Google and Apple to sell their content. But maybe publishers need to push Apple for a little more leeway. After all, publishers have not traditionally been thought of as merchants, and much of the business relies on key demographic information. At the very least, they should make very visible on their apps and content the option for consumers to share their information. And, they need to somehow educate consumers about the importance sharing this information, either by showing how they create the valuable content consumers buy from them, or by gaining sympathy and favor from their consumers by revealing themselves as real people who are doing their jobs, just like anybody else.

Magid: Apple, Google offer publishers competing online payment systems

Teens do not yet use ereaders as much as adults, partly because they can’t afford to buy a device, and partly because many still prefer the feel of paper in their hands. However, teens do love social media, and once social media becomes a bigger part of these devices—which it’s projected to do in 12-18 months, then it’s expected that more teens will use ereaders, and are more likely to read ebooks. Additionally, more adults are reading YA fiction, which is probably due to the fact that they can buy ebooks anonymously, instead of being seen browsing the children’s section in bookstores.

Publishers believe that more kids will enjoy enhanced ebooks and will be willing to buy them. Currently enhanced ebooks do not make much money, but if kids are more interested in interactive and social media, then enhanced ebooks may be the answer. Still, many kids seem to prefer print—simply because they like to curl up with a good book and because they can actually share a print book.

Libraries are trying to offer more ebooks, but publishers are not quite willing to allow all their ebooks to be used in libraries. The fear is that if ebooks are available in libraries, no one will want to purchase ebooks, but doesn’t the same fear apply to print books? Schools are now turning to ebooks. More and more schools are replacing ereaders with textbooks, which allows them to have more modern curriculum and cheaper textbooks.

What can publishers learn here? Well, it seems that enhanced ebooks should be targeted to the children/teen market. Enhanced ebooks need to be attention-grabbing and fun. And if it’s possible to integrate social media into them (perhaps they can share links to the videos inside?) then they will become even more popular and successful. Publishers also need to find a way to allow consumers to share their ebooks. The tradition of lending books has long been engrained in our culture, and if ebooks do not have that capability, they will always be less popular than print books.

Reaching the e-Teen

Online marketing has become vital, especially when it comes to the children’s and teens market. Both Random House and Simon & Schuster have their own teen communities online, with RandomBuzzers.com and Pulse It. Pulse It especially has a growing membership, and the site has found that teens enjoy the free ebooks, as well as the contests, blogs, and videos. Online polls have also been successful for publicity and for finding new ideas, as seen with Tom Angleberger’s Darth Paper Strikes Back.

While the physical book is still important to teens, using interactivity, such as how Scholastic promoted Maggie Stiefvater’s Forever book on Valentine’s (they had a video of the author reading an excerpt posted on her Facebook page, and then they sent out e-cards with links to the trailer and a custom heart icon, which teens could fill in with their friend’s names, who would in turn be sent a copy of the first book in Stiefvater’s series).

Webisodes and videos of specific characters or excerpts from a book are also popular, but in the end having websites for the books are proving to be the most effective method. Other marketing ideas include author blog tours and online chapter hunts.

With the YA market booming, it is important to market to teens in a digital environment. Children and teens are incredibly web-savvy, and by using the tools they often use themselves, publishers can successfully reach out to this target audience. The key is interactivity, whether through contests, polls, or otherwise. Publishers should also consider offering limited time free ebooks to entice teens to buy the rest of a series.

Where the Kids Are: Marketing Online

 

This Week in Publishing

Theodore Gray, the co-founder of Wolfram Research, said at the O-Reilly Media Tools of Change for Publishing conference that “next-generation book publishers will need multiple disciplines—programming, writing and video—to be successful.” They need to be very high-quality, and textbooks in particular need to embrace the digital age. One example of what Gray has in mind is Touch Press’ Elements iPad app and the Solar System tool, both of which are very enhanced. Gray said, “I don’t think there’s a future in paying for ordinary textbooks. No one will pay for simple textbooks. People will pay for interactivity.”

So it seems in order to be successful, publishers will need to recruit programmers and television producers. This means the cost of making these enhanced e-books will be more expensive, so how will publishers price these new products?

Wolfram Research co-founder Gray, Touch Press may be future of e-books, publishing

On Tuesday, Apple “released the official details regarding App Store subscriptions.” Apple’s terms are that publishers “must now offer subscriptions for purchase within their apps if they intend to have a subscription option at all.” And of course, Apple gets 30 percent of purchased subscriptions. Publishers are able to offer subscriptions outside of their apps (on their websites, etc.), but if they do so, they must also have in-app subscriptions. Apple will also not allow publishers to have in-app links to their websites or subscriptions, which means that pretty much all customers will subscribe through in-app purchases, guaranteeing Apple that 30 percent cut. But, to make publishers feel better, Apple will now provide data about customers. This seems a little controlling of Apple, but we’ll have to wait and see how publishers feel about it.

Apple Officially Launches App Store Subscriptions

After about a century, the serial novel is making a comeback. Thanks to e-books and the Web, novels can easily be any length, and publishers have been experimenting with serial novels again. In 2000, Stephen King posted chapters of his story, “The Plant” for $1 each on his website—unfortunately hackers ended up shutting it down. But two weeks ago, The Huffington Post starting posting serial novels. The first one is called “Seeing Red,” by Claudia Ricci, and it is free. Additionally, this week Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter are competing against the IBM supercomputer, Watson. Stephen Baker has written a book entitled “Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything,” and all but the final chapter, which will come out after the three-day tournament, has been posted online.

I guess the takeaway here is that print may be dying, but the Internet is reviving old literary forms and inspiring new types of writing.

E-books and the return of the serial novel