Friday, 25 January 2013

The rise of the ebook (continued)

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey, Thomas Payne and Jack Steel)

Free ebook this weekend only! This Saturday and Sunday you'll find my ebook Falklands: Voyage to War available for free on Amazon.

Some figures released by the Association of American Publishers for 2011 make interesting reading. In that year ebooks became ‘the dominant single format’ in the adult fiction category, accounting for 30% of publishers’ sales and more than doubling the 13% recorded the previous year. The revenue from adult fiction ebooks amounted to $1.27 billion, an increase of 117%. Also in 2011, the number of self-published books increased dramatically to 211,269 over the 133,936 released in 2010, not quite twice as many, and roughly 45% of these were fiction. New writers were discovering that, for the first time, they didn’t actually need publishers in order to get published.

And it’s still clear that mainstream commercial publishers have little or no idea how to take advantage of the new medium. One example: the author Eric van Lustbader, who wrote more than 25 bestsellers, suddenly discovered that many of his most successful novels weren’t available as ebooks. As his publisher was apparently unable or unwilling to release his work in this format, the author has reclaimed all the relevant rights to these novels and is in the process of releasing them as ebooks himself, without the assistance of any publishing house.

It’s worth bearing in mind another factor which has characterized the ebook revolution: not only can unknown writers publish anything they want, but professional authors can release books that no mainstream publisher would even consider. This is particularly the case with short stories. Very few authors have had short stories published in book form, and those that have managed this have usually seen these only as collections, released after the author has already become established as a bestselling novelist. Some magazines take short stories, but for most writers this is an ephemeral and unsatisfactory method of getting their work out to their readers. But the rise of the ebook has changed everything, because the length of the work is now virtually irrelevant.

I have had two short non-fiction books and a collection of ghost stories published by The Endeavour Press that I could never have hoped to see released by any commercial publishing house because the length of all three works was simply wrong. But as ebooks, they are selling well, and the low asking price reflects the fact that they aren’t full-length works.

Stephen Leather is a well-established and popular novelist, and he, too, is exploiting the short story medium with his ‘Inspector Zhang’ series. Reportedly, he sells roughly 6,000 of each every year, usually for under £1, and in 2012 he claimed to have sold about half a million ebooks in all, the majority being short stories.

This didn’t go down well when he spoke at the Crime Writers Association conference in Harrogate last July, and he was booed and hissed by the audience, apparently for having the temerity to properly embrace the new technology which is available. Clearly the people who listened to him speak objected very strongly to the entire concept of the ebook, and in particular the idea of cheap ones.

Personally, I think he’s quite right. The fact of the matter – as I hope I’ve shown in this blog post, if it wasn’t already perfectly apparent to everybody – is that the ebook is here and it’s here to stay, and there’s absolutely no point in not taking advantage of it and the opportunities it offers. We are never going to return to a time when a handful of publishing houses were able to decide what was – and what was not – suitable material for the reading public, and the sooner everybody realises that the better.

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