Mercy Pilkington

Mercy Pilkington



is a Senior Editor for Good e-Reader. She is also the CEO and founder of Author Options, a hybrid publishing and consultancy company. Have a question? Send an email to info@authoroptions.com


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Newspapers around the country have been in a steady decline over the past few years, a decline that arguably began with nightly news coverage as more and more households bought a television. In essence, a daily newspaper prints yesterday’s news, which is then read at the end of the work day, making it nearly two days old.

Internet news access–most of it free above the cost of internet service, which consumers pay for already–provides up-to-the-minute headline news literally at the readers fingertips, even if it isn’t always unbiased or wholly accurate.

But newspapers, especially the once-family owned papers, provided a valuable service that internet news rarely offers, and that is in-depth local coverage. Unless a particular incident is noteworthy enough to garner national coverage, it can be completely ignored by the media.

Digital newspapers, on the other hand, have the ability to revive not only the coverage that local newspapers once provided, but also to rejuvenate the true journalism that took place on the local events level. In looking back through the nation’s history, a lot of social good came out of local reporters uncovering the real story; that’s not a service that the public can take lightly.

According to an article for Bloomberg, Cerberus Capital Management LP has a plan in the motion to purchase Digital First Media Inc., which owns some regional news outlets like the San Jose Mercury News and the Denver Post. This deal would expand the digital reach of these papers and allow a broader audience of readers who have some form of tie to the region–former residents, or readers whose parents still live in Denver, for example–to continue to benefit from the serious journalism that takes place in those regions.

Once deals like this take place and broader digital publishing options open up for newspapers, digital newspaper and magazines subscription providers are able to step in with a quality, easy to use app that allows consumers to access a wide variety of content that they otherwise never would have found.

Author Earnings
You have to hand it to Hugh Howey and the elusive Data Guy: they do a great but thankless service for which they receive heaps of professional scorn, but they don’t let that stop them. Every time they release a new Author Earnings report filled with charts and graphs and actual information culled over countless hours at the computer, I remember the scene from the film Day After Tomorrow when Jake Gyllenhaal’s character pleads with the people to not go out into the storm, begging them to save themselves and warning them they will die if they go out there.

They don’t listen, of course. And then they die.

But the fact that Author Earnings has been providing solid data–regardless of the people who declare that the data is not solid, despite having no other proof of that statement other than their status as well-known industry professionals–all this time has done little to change the minds of the top names in publishing. They still wave their hands dismissively and continue along the course they’ve been charting for four hundred years.

The “executive summary,” or key takeaways of the findings in this January 2015 report, states:

  • “AuthorEarnings reports analyze detailed title-level data on 33% of all daily ebook sales in the U.S.
  • 30% of the ebooks being purchased in the U.S. do not use ISBN numbers and are invisible to the industry’s official market surveys and reports; all the ISBN-based estimates of market share reported by Bowker, AAP, BISG, and Nielsen are wildly wrong.
  • 33% of all paid ebook unit sales on Amazon.com are indie self-published ebooks.
  • 20% of all consumer dollars spent on ebooks on Amazon.com are being spent on indie self-published ebooks.
  • 40% of all dollars earned by authors from ebooks on Amazon.com are earned by indie self-published ebooks.
  • In mid-year 2014, indie-published authors as a cohort began taking home the lion’s share (40%) of all ebook author earnings generated on Amazon.com while authors published by all of the Big Five publishers combined slipped into second place at 35%.”

The newest information from the most recent Author Earnings report includes its usual proof in the pudding of how indie authors are faring in the current book retail market, but also includes an interesting topic that hasn’t received as much attention due to the availability of months of back data: Kindle Unlimited numbers.

“A quick aside on Kindle Unlimited (KU). The indie share of author earnings includes 8% from KU borrows of indie books. In our last report, KU was a brand new part of the author-earnings landscape. To account for it accurately, we crowdsourced borrow-versus-buy ratios from hundreds of indie authors participating in KU, and found that they averaged 1:1 (half KU borrows, half full-price purchases). We used that 50% borrow ratio as a baseline in our author earnings calculations, although we found that plugging in any other ratio instead, even 0% borrows or 100% borrows, made little difference in the overall numbers and pie charts. In November, when Amazon.com announced the size of the October KU “pot” at $5.5 million and the indie per-borrow payout at $1.33, we could now double-check our crowdsourced KU-borrow ratio of 50%. So we did:

$5.5 million / $1.33 = 4,135,338 indie KU borrows in October

Which is exactly 48% of the 8,561,293 paid monthly downloads (purchases + borrows) of Indie & Uncategorized books in KU shown by our data — quite close to the 50% we originally crowdsourced. Perhaps the wisdom of crowds is a thing, after all.”

For a closer look at the in-depth report (and all of its pretty charts and graphs), click HERE.

BookBaby-logo
Since the original innovations in digital publishing and self-publishing first came along, there have been a few upgrades and features added to the concept, but nothing that really shook up the process, at least not in the same way that self-publishing originally turned the publishing world on its collective head. But a new program from ebook and print distributor BookBaby stands to be the first true game changer for indie authors since the recent revolution took off.

While there’s nothing inherently amazing about print-on-demand, being able to combine print-on-demand with a far reaching distribution program is. Authors who currently use CreateSpace–arguably the most trafficked POD service for self-publishing–really only have the option to list their physical books on Amazon, the CreateSpace e-store, and a their own blogs if they choose to fulfill the shipping options themselves. While there is a free expanded distribution option with CreateSpace that at least makes it possible for libraries and bookstores to stock the titles, it sees limited results for most authors.

BookBaby’s new program will distribute self-published print-on-demand titles to retailers like Barnes and Noble through their website (with the potential due to sales and customer requests for in-store sales), Amazon, Powells, NASCORP, Ingram Network, Baker & Taylor Network, plus up to another 150 other outlets.

This program is an add-on to their existing print services, and only requires a one-time minimum order of 25 copies of the professionally printed book. While ebook conversion and distribution is available, it is not required in order to take advantage of the print-on-demand option. That means an author can still offer his ebook on Amazon at his own terms and under his own name, as well as take full advantage of Amazon’s exclusive KDP Select program and its benefits, while still offering his print edition through the other networks.

The best part? One of the chief concerns that prevents bookstores from carrying self-published works is the inability to return unsold titles, even at the author’s cost. BookBaby’s program will allow these outlets–from the local indie bookshop to Barnes and Noble’s physical locations–to return unsold books for a full refund, while still not incurring any cost to the author. BookBaby will absorb the cost of the refund.

“This is different from any other Print On Demand program out on the marketplace,” said Steven Spatz, BookBaby President. “Self-published authors deserve to have a place on the book store shelves around the world, and our program delivers the maximum exposure through retail stores and wholesale catalogs.”

Unlike many companies who offer publishing tools for indie authors, BookBaby does not take an additional royalty on each item sold. The full remaining percentage after the retailer’s cut goes to the author. There are metrics involved in factoring the royalty on the print-on-demand titles, but they are comparable to other distributors in the industry.

digi pub china
If there was every any doubt about the need for authors and publishers to distribute their books abroad, a new report on book consumption in China may have just put those thoughts to rest. While China does boast the largest single-country population on the planet, those numbers translate into an incredible amount of sales within the various provinces.

What is more interesting about the report was the breakdown by genre within the different regions, as well as the accumulation of where books are being bought in the highest numbers. One particular province, for example, bought more books than the combined sales of sixteen other provinces. Capital cities of the provinces and different universities in various provinces were also examined to discover the overall rate of book buying and the genres that sold the most copies in each location.

According to an article on the findings for AnhuiNews.com, “Chinese people purchased 33 million books via dangdang.com in 2014. The top three provinces for book consumption are Guangdong with 16.89 percent, Beijing 11.39 percent, and Jiangsu 7.01 percent. They are followed by Shanghai 6.45 percent, Shandong 6.23 percent and Zhejiang 5.71 percent.”

While this report took into account the total book buying habits of consumers, ebooks also saw a spike in consumption.

“E-book consumption has increased dramatically along with the development and popularization of smart phones. The ratio of e-book sales to hardcopy sales rose from 10 percent to 30 percent in 2014. The top three sales regions are also the biggest e-book markets: Guangdong, Beijing and Jiangsu. It has become popular for readers to read and buy e-books by mobile phone. In 2014, 60 million e-books were downloaded, which is equal to 20 percent of hardcopy sales. That figure is 10 percent higher than that in 2013.”

This news should serve as a conversation starter for authors and publishers–especially smaller press publishing houses–who have yet to explore the options of international distribution, an important market option considering the lack of available English language content in direct proportion to the numbers of English speakers in many of these countries.

indie-authors
In some ways, the current state of digital publishing is even more mysterious to indie writers than when the doors first opened on publishing a handful of years ago. With so many more options than the first wave of publishing revolution, even seasoned, published authors may find some of the new options and features a little daunting.

Two of the many reliable, on-going sources of information will be staging their monthly online events today with topics aimed at furthering the careers and success of self-published authors.

The first is the Alliance of Independent Authors’ monthly “Ask ALLi” roundtable with guest experts Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Penn, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author who was named one of The Guardian UK Top 100 Creative Professionals in 2013, will share insights into the current state of self-publishing with author, ALLi director, and sought-after industry expert Orna Ross. Together the pair will take questions and offer tips and solutions.

Later tonight, the weekly Bibliocrunch Twitter chat #IndieChat will take place at its usual time, only this week’s guest is far from usual. One of the top issues that continues to plague indie authors isn’t in the writing, editing, or publishing side of the business, but in the marketing and promotion aspect. Tonight’s #IndieChat guest is Shari Stauch, founder of Where Writers Win, a company dedicated to working with authors with a spectrum of budgetary allowances to offer every type of promotion service, from outright media campaigns to simply building their websites.

Participation in both events is free and simple. For the ALLi event, simply sign in to join the Google Hangout by following THIS LINK. The event kicks off at 11am ET/4pm GMT. For the #IndieChat hosted by Bibliocrunch, simply sign into your Twitter account and follow the hashtag at 9pm ET. Remember to include the hashtag in your tweets to join in the conversation.

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The publishing industry has extolled the virtues of digital publishing–less waste, lower transport and delivery costs, a reduced carbon footprint–especially where periodicals are concerned, but there is more to delivering e-content in the form of newspapers and magazines than simply browsing through a magazine while you wait for the train.

New data on travel, specifically the numbers that pertain to business travel, may provide a correlation between the increase in individual trips and the steady increase in popularity of digital newspaper and magazine apps. Numbers from the Travel Industry Association of America indicate that:

  • 3% of business travelers travel outside of the U.S.
  • 47% of business travelers reported that their last trip was to attend a meeting, trade show, or convention, as opposed to other activities, such as consulting or making a sales call.
  • The average business trip lasts 3.3 nights.
  • 20% of business travelers report that they combined work and vacation on their last trip.
  • There were 43,900,000 individuals who traveled on business in 1998 — or one out of every five American adults.
  • The average business traveler is 42 years old.
  • 60% of business travelers are men.
  • The average business traveler takes 5.4 trips each year.
  • The average business traveler earns an annual salary of $76,100.
  • In the 1990’s, there were an average of 200,000,000 business trips taken per year.
  • With 25% of business travelers visiting the South Atlantic region of the U.S., it is the most common destination.

With so much travel taking place in far flung destinations when the individual is required to travel, one of the small comforts that airports and hotels have been able to offer is access to internet connectivity and digital magazines and newspapers. This allows the business traveler to connect to content and news from back home, rather than experience the sense of relief from getting away from it all, as when on vacation.

“With todays’ competitive hospitality industry, retention is usually a result of high guest satisfaction,” explains the logic behind digital amenities as offered by digital content app PressReader. “Value added guest amenities, like PressReader, give hoteliers an ideal solution to gain a competitive edge in the market resulting in higher guest satisfaction and repeat visits. With a library of over 2,000 same-day digital newspapers and magazines including the Washington Post, Elle Magazine, Business Traveler, The Globe and Mail and Le Monde, PressReader is a cost-effective luxury amenity that leisure and business travelers alike would appreciate.”

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When the digital revolution kicked off, it sparked a wave–for better or for worse, depending on which supporter or critic you ask–of self-publishing opportunities that many were quick to take advantage of. But there were key groups who were left out at first, namely children’s book authors, graphic novelists, photo array creators, and similar content developers. But thanks to companies like Blurb, Draft2Digital, Story2Go, and many more, there are now opportunities for a wide variety of publishing types.

This has led to an increase in interest in private self-publishing, or a model of publishing in which an individual simply wants to have a professional-looking print or digital edition of a book that will not be listed for major sale. While outlets like CreateSpace function to list a professional-grade print copy on Amazon’s retail website, others like the addition of print services from Nook Press simply make print-on-demand copies available for the author to purchase.

A recent article for Economic Times highlighted the need for cookbooks to have a publishing process, as more and more people are sharing their old family recipes within their group of relatives, and are looking for a professional option. While church cookbooks in particular have long been a fundraising option, the results were often shoddy plastic spiral bindings between two pieces of card stock, while the books themselves had to be ordered in minimum shipments of bulk that the organizations then had to turn around and sell at an astounding price, just to make a return.

With print-on-demand, though, not only is the option available for single-purchase at much lower prices, the option to list the book on sites like Amazon is still there if organizations choose to direct their customers to the retailer and make their royalty that way. Of course, they are also free (and encouraged, even) to order their own copies at a significant savings and sell them at events as impulse purchases.

In the case on the family cookbook featured in Economic Times, the book actually went on to be picked up by HarperCollins India, given that it was a large collection of regional favorites and nothing else like it was available at the time. The publisher has gone on to actively seek out other cookbooks for the same reason.

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One of the early adoption markets for tablet use, K12 digital textbooks, and a thriving e-commerce site to offer ebooks was India, but recent reports have shown somewhat stagnant responses, which experts have attributed to a lack of reliable wifi and internet connectivity throughout the country, as well as concerns about posting credit card information on unreliable digital infrastructure. But a new multi-billion dollar initiative from the Indian government in conjunction with a major telecom provider may change all that with the institution of free wifi in 2,500 cities across the country.

The Digital India project will create some 50,000 to 60,000 hotspots in various cities, and offer citizens data plans through telecom-provider BSNL. These data plans, which will function in much the same way that consumers currently subscribe to data plans, will offer the free data packages, with the option to purchase additional data each month after the free threshold has been reached.

According to an outline of the project, the goals include:

  • Broadband highways to connect all villages and cities of India
  • Everywhere mobile connectivity; wherein mobile coverage will be provided to every nook and corner of India
  • Public Internet Access Program wherein internet accessibility to the web will be provided at subsidized rates (example public WiFis)
  • eGovernance in every government department, wherein 100% paper-less environment will be encouraged
  • e-Kranti, wherein government services would be electronically delivered
    Information for All policy (which includes provisioning of Right to Information using the Internet as a medium)
  • Electronics manufacturing
  • IT for Jobs
  • Early harvest program

How does this affect the publishing industry? Nearly all sectors of publishing have seen lagging adoption–slower than predicted, at least–due to concerns of connectivity. While educational initiatives have put devices in place, retail websites like Flipkart and Amazon India have introduced easy ebook purchasing, and even major self-publishers have brought the platform to authors in India, the lack of internet connection has been blamed for disappointing results in publishing.

digital-magazine

Internet news devotees have had to become very selective about the articles they read due to the abundance of available content, which has led many to adopt dedicated digital platforms that only display news from sources they choose. Apps like PressReader and Newsbeat have stepped up to fill the gap, and offer customizable options for current news, including region-specific content and categorical selection. Digital newspapers and magazines have also grown in popularity, possibly in relation to the unreliable options flooding social media; OverDrive reported on its growth of digital content yesterday, citing the convenience of access to news through public library portals as a chief patron service.

One platform in particular, Press Reader, released a new video that explains its all-you-can-read digital news model, as well as its emergence as a leading provider of digital newspapers and magazines to the all-important library sector.

Press Reader bills itself to users as a premium content provider, meaning its not the same old headlines that are available scattered across news blogs. This has helped the crucial lending market make a trusted choice in subscribing for their patrons to access digital content.

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The digital revolution and its subsequent self-publishing hey day have perhaps sparked more change in literature and publishing than any event since Gutenberg started tinkering, but for all of the great talk of “equalizing” and breaking down barriers, what industry watchers were really referring to was text-based novels. A number of demographics in the publishing business were left out, such as comic book creators, graphic novelists, children’s book authors, and more.

But as startups began to recognize the self-publishing and digital platform spheres were overloaded with options for authors, a few other companies began quietly meeting the needs that other companies had overlooked. One such market was the image-heavy ebook space, where books had to be converted into apps for consumption in various operating system-specific app stores rather than sold through e-reading sites like Amazon or B&N.

Story2Go, first interviewed by Good e-Reader at Frankfurt Book Fair in 2013, launched at the time with an inexpensive iOS app that allowed authors and creators to essentially build their ebooks with simple drag-and-drop and uploading features, then rely on the bigger guns to actually distribute the book to a variety of app stores. While the process of creating the file isn’t entirely intuitive–this is no “Children’s eBooks for Dummies” level of process–there are clear-cut instructions at each step of the way to help authors along.

For a limited time, the Story2Go app is free in the Apple App Store, and despite the time that the company has producing and distributing books on behalf of authors, the price to distribute is still only a one-time $99 fee for the first platform, and $149 for multiple app stores.

virgin-hotels
Well-lit vanity mirrors? Shower benches for leg shaving? Kinder lighting in the corridors? Why not?

Some critics of Virgin Group Ltd., the chain of entertainment and service industry offerings owned by billionaire Richard Branson, have scoffed at the corporation’s latest attempt to win over a key demographic with its new hospitality chain, Virgin Hotels. The luxury hotel chain is making a concerted effort to meet the needs of the growing numbers of female business travelers, but it’s not just makeup mirrors and smooth legs.

One key feature of this hotel chain is a divided room that allows the guest to accept deliveries like room service or luggage service through the main room door, while staying locked behind a second door with a peep hole. Corridor lighting has been enhanced to ensure that there are no dark corners for someone to lurk in. Of course, there are the less intimidating amenities like larger closets to accommodate business travelers’ suits and dresses, helping to ensure that the purpose of the trip comes off as stylishly as possible.

While some news sources have openly stated that female guests have no need of these extra features because “they’ve done okay without leg-shaving benches thus far,” Virgin’s founder sees it a little differently, considering the numbers of women who travel for business, not just for vacation.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Virgin determined early on that appealing to female business travelers was part of that approach. Company executives cited a 2011 report from the Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University that highlighted the market opportunity: While females accounted for only a quarter of business travelers in 1991, they now comprise about half.”

It may seem gimmicky to some, but in a crowded hospitality industry, hotel chains are working overtime to meet the needs of guests in a way that make them stand out. Anyone can offer a bed, a bath, and a bagel in the lobby each morning, but companies are actively working to provide features that make travelers choose their accommodations based on features like wifi that remembers you from your last visit, free digital newspapers and magazines through apps like PressReader, the ability to read the news from “back home” while traveling, and more.

digital-textbooks-1
Once you secure your position as the ultimate player in self-publishing, where do you go from there? The textbook self-publishing market. Amazon has released the specifics on its new textbook creator app, Kindle Textbook Creator, and while it doesn’t look like it has much to offer in the way of never-before-seen innovation, it does bring the benefits of self-publishing to those who have something great to share in terms of academia.

Just as Khan Academy and the advent of online video uploads brought a whole new realm of instruction to the internet and classrooms alike, the ability to build, sell, and market something that looks like a textbook but behaves like any other title in the Amazon Kindle store–except for the very obvious difference, you can’t read it on a Kindle–renews the coup of self-publishing for a whole new demographic of content creators.

According to an article by Darrell Etherington for TechCrunch, “Kindle Textbook Creator seems designed for speed, and for working with the legacy textbook publishing industry, as opposed to iBooks Author which is more designed to help educators build digital-native experiences from scratch. Books built with Amazon’s new tool offer multi-color highlighting for students, as well as built-in notebooks, flashcards for review, dictionaries, and of course multi-platform support, in addition to translating the PDF version of their document into something that works on any reader.”

Currently in a rudimentary format, Amazon has already stated new features will be rolled out as they become available. What also remains to be seen is how the possibility for professional academic publishing can evolve with a tool like this one, considering the intense pressure some universities place on their faculty to publish. As self-published fiction authors have discovered, what may be lost in prestige can be more than made up for in dollars.

overdrive australia nsw
Any time a library can report an increase in circulation, patron engagement, offered services, and catalog content, it’s a cause for celebration. Libraries as vital parts of healthy communities are in a constant state of defense, so growth in the sector is good to hear. But when the libraries in question are school libraries who cater to the needs of emerging readers (and future voters who will determine the strength of public libraries down the road), it’s even better.

OverDrive, one of the world’s leading providers of digital content to public and academic libraries, released news yesterday of record growth of its ebook catalog.

“As of January 1, 2015, nearly 12,000 schools and districts have incorporated the OverDrive service into their curriculum and library plans, a 50% increase over the same time last year. OverDrive now works with K-12 partners in 38 countries, with 10 countries added to their global network in 2014.”

eBook adoption in school libraries stands to result in a significant savings for both public and private centers’ budgets, given the typically lower cost of titles and the elimination of damaged copies. One of the chief complaints in school adoption of digital titles, though, has been lack of content from publishers, a factor that OverDrive has worked hard to eliminate.

“OverDrive’s school eBook catalog has also reached record size, with 24% growth over the last year, adding more than 100,000 new titles and bringing the total digital catalog available to schools to more than 2 million titles. Audiobook availability has increased 15%, with more than 5,500 new titles available to school partners through OverDrive…In addition, the 2014 acquisition of Teacher’s Notebook has given K-12 partners access to teacher-created curriculum materials from more than 500,000 educators.

One of the most exciting parts of the announcement is the seamless incorporation of audio narration with digital titles, a factor that has been proven to increase not only comprehension and reading levels in students who utilize it, but also to play a key role in fostering reading self-selected texts for pleasure.

“In 2014, OverDrive also introduced Narrated eBooks, a feature that provides a single eBook file synchronized with audio. Publishers supplied hundreds of popular children’s titles in this new format, which are now available for schools and libraries.”

With a 234% increase in new visitors to the OverDrive site (over 2 million year-over-year), and 6.26 million visits to the school digital content website in 2014 alone (an increase of 276% over the previous year), K12 academic libraries are finally making solid headway into digital adoption.

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