Quirky Ramblings on E-Books, Self-Publishing and the Consumer

USA TODAY had an interesting article on authors who have struck it big with their self-published e-books. The article featured 26-yr old Amanda Hocking of Minnesota who got tired of being rejected by traditional publishers and self-published last year. In 2010, she sold 164,000 books, with most priced between $0.99 and $2.99 per digital download. And in January, 2011 (after many readers got e-readers for Christmas), she sold 450,000 copies of her 9 paranormal titles, with three of her titles making their debut on the USA TODAY’s Bestseller list.

Her percentage of that sales price range comes in at 30-70%, respectively, but she’s making money at it. And she promotes on Facebook, Twitter, and word of mouth—and credits the popularity of the paranormal genre for much of her success.

And another paranormal e-novelist, who sold 70,000 copies since July 2010, got noticed by Random House and just signed a three-book deal.

I bring this up because of a talk I had with a neighbor this week. She got me thinking about digital download books. My neighbor had received a Nook for Christmas and was downloading books online. She was feeling pretty tech savvy, for sure. And she wanted a trip down memory lane when she used to read simple sweet romance novels, easy reads that made her happy.

Instead, she bought erotica by mistake. Now her online booksellers are sending her recommendations for the same steamy stuff she just purchased. (I’m chuckling as I write this. If you knew my neighbor, you would too.) She actually had to call the online bookstore to see if they could stop sending those recommendations to her Nook, but since it was such a new product, they couldn’t help her. But she was willing to download a book that she knew nothing about other than it was a romance and she had virtually no knowledge of the plot. She only knew it was a bargain. And she’s not alone. I’ve heard on blog posts and other places that many readers are willing to try a new author for $0.99-$2.99/book.

Now I’ve resisted buying an e-reader so far. I’m not sure the technology is there yet and I like the feel of a book in my hands. Plus I spend way too much time in front of a computer writing that I think reading off a display might make my quirky eyesight worse. But I can see why a reader might like the option of downloading a book quickly, read it immediately without paying shipping, and maybe get it for a bargain. And I also have a couple of manuscripts “under my bed” that are only playthings for my cats. Maybe it’s time to do something with them and test the new marketplace of e-books.

I’d like to hear from anyone who has an e-reader. How do you like reading off it? Has owning one changed your book buying habits? Do you still buy print books? And is there a price point that might tempt you to try a new author?

And if you’re an author who has sold your e-books online through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble’s Pubit, Lulu, Smashwords, and other locations—how has that worked for you?

Good news for ebooks: the 82-year-old mother test

About this time last year, TKZ hosted a couple of spirited discussions about the merits of e-books, Kindles, and electronic publishing in general. After watching my 82-year-old mother become a devoted “Kindle convert” during the course of a recent cross-country road trip, I suspect that the technology battle is over. E-books have won.

My mother (nicknamed “Mimi” by friends and family) and I recently drove from South Carolina to Los Angeles in a cream puff of a car, a ’99 Mercedes sedan (it had only 17,000 miles on it when we hit the road). My sister had given Mimi a Kindle at the outset of our trip–and as we set off, my mother was a gracious but reluctant recipient. Thanks, she said, but I’ll never be able to hold it right for reading. It just won’t feel the same as a book. Will I have to keep it on a wire like the laptop I never use?

And then she plugged it in. Two days later, I couldn’t pull her away from the thing.

By the time we got to Phoenix, Mimi had already made her way through two Stieg Larsson books, and was downloading more. She was so enraptured by the reading experience that she was barely coming up for air.

Before she got her Kindle, Mimi was a voracious reader, but her buying habits wouldn’t have brought joy to publishers. Unable to make it out to the library anymore, she had become an avid reader of used books–we would send her box loads of second hand books. As a child of the Depression, Mimi thinks paying $26.95 for a brand new hardback is practically sinful, and she’d fuss at us if we splurged on any title we could have bought used from Amazon at a fraction of the price.(I tried to explain to her that buying new books helped ensure the future of her favorite authors, but try explaining that to someone who peeled the foil off the backs of gum sticks during World War II).

Mimi is so excited about her Kindle, it’s like we’ve given an addict her first hit.  She rhapsodizes about how you can increase the font size, and the long battery life.

After all the angst and anguish about what e-books will do to publishing, I think the future is bright–in the future, readers like Mimi will be downloading and paying full price for e-books. By being able to browse and read samples online, they’ll be exposed to new releases and other books they may never otherwise have read. And–did I mention? They’ll pay full price.

I think this is great news for writers and publishers. I call it the “82-year-old mother test.” Bottom line: If Mimi loves your product, you’ve got a great future. And boy, does Mimi love her new Kindle.

If my mother has joined the ranks of e-reader converts, I’m ready to declare an end to the debate (at least on Tuesdays, which is my blog day). The e-book era is officially here. May we all live long, e-read, and prosper.

What about you? Have you overcome previous doubts about e-books and joined the ranks of e-readers? Are you secretly hoping for an iPad, Nook, or Kindle this year?