Sunday, May 1, 2011

It's Here and Sooner than I Thought

Check out this link

to the S.F. Chronicle regarding Krakauer's new non-fiction book ripping to shreds the mythology surrounding the immensely successful book, "Three Cups of Tea." I'm not going to weigh in on the validity of either book because I haven't read either book. What is fascinating is that Krakauer released his book from Byliner, a no-name e-publisher (although now soon to be a household name in publishing). "60 Minutes" ran a story on Mortenson and  "the day after the program aired, 70,000 free PDF versions of "Three Cups of Deceit" were downloaded within 72 hours of its release, according to the company. Six hours after the release of the $2.99 tablet version, available on the Kindle and Apple's iPad, it shot to the top of the Kindle Single list and has led Amazon's overall nonfiction sales ever."

I don't think anyone needs to wonder why Krakauer went with Byliner. First of all, check out the pricing: $2.99. I doubt any mainstream publisher would have agreed to that kind of bargain basement pricing. Sure, it means he has to sell a hell of a lot of downloads to make any money, but he's got the writing cred to pull something like this off. As he has proved. Will a bricks and mortar publisher pick up the paper rights to this book? I'm not sure. Because they'd have to match what is inevitably a sweetheart deal between Krakauer and Byliner in terms of profit sharing. Plus, if you don't have the e-rights, is it worth printing?

This is not to say that Byliner didn't score an incredible coup by signing Krakauer. If I tried to do something like this, it would be pointless. It takes someone of Krakauer's stature and marketability to pull this off. His track record sells him, and I would imagine it took some serious mental crunching to determine the demographics of his readership. I think they probably ran the numbers and realized that 70% of his readership has an e-reading device of some ilk (a number only bound to go up). The exposure on "60 Minutes" was the ultimate coup. All of this was very well timed, and I suspect that Krakauer went with a small publisher because his traditional publisher couldn't get their act together to publish ASAP.

The continuing disarray of mainstream publishing and their head-in-the-sand approach to the whole e-book phenomenon means that e-publishers like Byliner have a real chance of stealing a whole lot of their talent. Of course, a mention on "60 Minutes" is about as good as it gets in terms of free advertising, something not readily available to the fiction writer. But it's the wave of the future, and if I won the lottery, I'd set up an e-publishing house yesterday. Because I love books, and I don't have a lot of respect for what is coming out from New York these days.

This does raise the thorny issue of pricing. Because that sort of pricing demands that you sell a ton of downloads, but authors like Krakauer have that capability. Someone like me, not so much. And if enough authors of Krakauer's stature keep publishing books at $2.99, then there is constant and unrelenting pressure on all of us (publishers and authors alike) to match that pricing. It's like how amazon offered best sellers at $18.00 and all of a sudden people only expected to pay $18.00 for best-sellers, and good-bye independent bookstore, hello amazon and chain stores: capitalism at work.

Clearly, this is a cautionary tale for all mainstream publishers. Scrappy, fearless e-publishers are out there making deals with your writers. They are handing them the lion's share of the profit and harnessing the power of amazon.  It's a new day and publishers are hiding under the covers. Get off your butts and stop delaying publication of your manuscripts for over a year. Set up, IMMEDIATELY, your own e-division so that you can publish asap material that is hot and relevant. Some authors will work both in "print" and the "e" medium, but some manuscripts can do very nicely in only "e" versions. What you will lose in print sales you will gain by printing something relevant and CURRENT. Start labeling yourselves as hip, current, on top of what is happening. Stop seeing the e-revolution as the death knell and more of a different cash cow. Krakauer's 75,000 downloads speaks volumes. At least it does to me.

1 comment:

kimboosan said...

I hadn't heard of this! Interesting! Although yeah, I defy anyone to NOT hit the top of the pile after being featured on 60 Minutes! heh.

But will the publishing houses listen? And is it already too late? It's not like anyone has the answers to those questions, really, but I'm I'm betting "no" to the first and "yes" to the second, myself. Once a monopoly is broken, its nearly impossible to put it back together again.