Book Biz:Everything You Wanted to Know About Ebooks (but Were Afraid to Ask)

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As promised, this issue of the newsletter is a primer of ebook basics.

There are some 40 links in this issue because most topics need much more explanation than I have room for here.

One thing stands out: the ebook market remains in flux. There are no absolute rights or wrongs. Many of the links are just days old but may be obsolete already.

Consider that publishers have been successful giving away ebooks to spur conventional book sales, previously unknown authors have gained fame and fortune with $.99 books, and ebooks can be made available anywhere, from your web-site to eBay.

The barriers to entry are pretty low which should encourage your experimentation.

A number of you responded to my request for information. I truly want to thank you.

The basic point I heard over and over was a book that sells well tends to sell well as an ebook. I don’t know why that surprised me.

I didn’t offer any information about protecting your book’s copyright. Ebook digital rights management (DRM) has many followers and detractors. I leave it to you to research and find your comfort level. If any of you have insights into ebook rights management, I’d be glad to pass along your experiences.

Next month it’s back to ink and paper and more on the Borders and B&N sagas.

Ebook Issue(s)

Ebooks, Enhanced Ebooks, and Apps

Is there a difference between ebooks and apps? Some argue that enhanced ebooks are apps. And, you can’t sell an ebook, just the right to read it.

Which Titles Do Well as Ebooks?

Despite what most sales reports show, 75% of all ebook sales are technical and professional. But for books known as trade books, ebook bloggers and best seller lists indicate that fiction sells the most ebooks. Since ebook sales can’t be tracked conventionally without acceptance of individual ISBNs, it’s mostly guesswork.

The publishers that responded to my request for ebook experiences indicate all genres from cookbooks to yoga can work well digitally. Ebooks will often track a title’s conventional book sales.

Ebook Readers

Just a few years ago your choice was your computer or a Kindle. There are over a dozen choices today and more are in use in Asia. New tablets, smart phones and now flexible screens are being tested. Consumers still need to understand some problems ereaders can pose, including incompatible formats.

As a publisher you won’t need to offer books in all formats but as a consumer? Good luck, although some conversion tools are available.

Format Guidelines

Here are the first steps for publishing your book to Kindle (Amazon), Nook (B&N), or iPad (Apple). Or go to Smashwords and they’ll help with all of your conversions and distribution.

How many ISBNs Are Enough?

Every edition in every format of your book needs a unique identifying ISBN whether you provide one or the distributor does. Amazon assigns an ASIN to your ebook even if you have an ISBN (if you have a 10 digit ISBN that will be your ASIN).

Without unique ebook ISBNs, sales figures and ebook bestseller lists can’t be accurate.

Hit and Miss Ebook Pricing

If there’s definitive information about ebook pricing I can’t find it. This and this admit that pricing is all over the board and not expected to stabilize soon and readers dislike the current inconsistencies. The big 6 publishers have adopted agency model pricing, but the overall market has not favored that system.

The conventional book pricing model won’t work but it seems there’s no model to replace it.

Size of the Ebook Market

Thus far, gauging the size of the market is done with smoke and mirrors. This points out that comparing ebook sales figures (direct to consumer) vs. conventional book sales (to retailers and wholesalers) is misleading.

January 2011 ebook sales were up 115% over previous January while the AAP reported a 200% increase in February sales of $90 million.

The European market is decidedly smaller (Euro at $.71 today) while the Japanese ebook market is dominated by comics.

Some ebook publishers report a small drop-off in sales after consistent monthly growth.

Market watchers see Amazon dropping from 90% of domestic ebook sales to less than 50% in the coming 4 years.

Follow Ebook Blog

Media Bistro (whose GalleyCat is my recommended daily book publishing newsletter) has a daily blog that follows all things ebook.

Back to Books

Your Text Stocks Eco-Footprint

There are many ways to judge a paper’s ecological impact. This article has links to a number of ratings systems. And Domtar Paper now offers online environmental documentation of their stocks called The Paper Trail which details two of its more eco-friendly sheets.

Borders Sale?

Suddenly it appears Borders has found a buyer to sidestep liquidation.

Final thought

In the beginning was the Word. John 1:1


Past newsletters available at

About Wayne Johnson 69 Articles
I've worked in book manufacturing for over 30 years, closing my company Baker Johnson, Inc. in 2005. Currently I work freelance with a large group of publishers, advising them on the printing options available to them as the book industry endures major restructuring. My wife Cathy is a retired psychologist and spent most of her career working with the youth at Maxey Boys Training School. She is a small mammal rehabilitator with Friends of Wildlife. Our daughter Whitney is a PharmD working in the Denver area evaluating the pharmaceutical requirements of nursing homes. Our son Eliot lives in Waterloo and is an editor at Mathematical Reviews in Ann Arbor.