Viva La Revolution Digital!

I wrote this for a local writing group’s newsletter and I thought it might be nice to post it to my blog, too. Enjoy!

As I write this, 19 of the top 50 USA Today bestseller list titles are selling better in digital format than in hardcopy for the third week in a row.

Figures cited in January 2011 peg digital books as 9 percent of the trade book market. At the end of July 2010 they were five percent of the market. That’s now fast this “new” book format is growing.

So what is a digital book? Well, it’s pretty much the electronic file a publisher would send to its printing plant to produce a physical book. This means it has been written, revised, edited, copy edited, formatted proofread and galley-proofed. A cover has been designed. Jacket or back-cover copy has been written and an author photo has been taken.

Quotes have been obtained from other authors and an author bio has been written or edited. Catalog copy has been written, a website listing has been created. All of the things that have to happen for a hardcopy book to get to the ink-and-paper stage have been done.

It’s ready for printing—or for conversion to E-pub, PDF, Mobi or some other electronic format suitable for reading on a computer screen, a cell phone, an I-Pad or a dedicated e-reader.

What’s in it for you as a reader? Less expensive books. Yes, you have to invest in a reading device (unless you already have a smart phone or can read on a computer), but you can buy books pretty much anywhere, anytime.

Many publishers set digital book prices slightly lower than physical book prices, and if you’re an online bookstore patron, you don’t have shipping charges added to the total.

And that’s the digital publishing revolution from the reading point of view.

From the writing point of view, there’s a lot more involved. For example, digital-first publishers like Carina (the digital-first division of Harlequin) don’t pay advances. They pay higher royalty rates than regular publishers and get the books to stores considerably faster.

My book came out from a digital-first publisher, Samhain Publishing; I signed the contract on Saint Patrick’s day 2009 and received my first royalty payment in mid-October of that year.

New York publishers generally get books into print 12-18 months after the contract is signed. And they break advance payments into several portions: part on signing the contract, part on manuscript acceptance after editorial revisions, and the final portion when the book hits bookstores.

The royalty rate for my publisher is 40% of cover price on digital books purchased from their website and 30% on digital books purchased from a third party website, such as amazon.com.

Standard royalty rates for digital books from New York publishing houses are, well, lower than that. Most houses are trying to make 25 percent on net the standard, with net being the amount the publishing house gets for the book. However, the payments are comparable to hardcopy versions.

Of course, to them it’s still only a small percentage of the market. Or it was until a few weeks ago, when the bestsellers started selling more digital copies than paper copies.

The market is in flux, the method of payment is in flux and the role of big publishers is in flux. Writers still create stories and readers still consume them. At least some things don’t change, even in the midst of revolution.

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