Sunday, August 24, 2014

Publishing an ebook Part 2

Having got Flag Fen: a concise Archæoguide successfully published for Kindle (see Part 1) I wanted to get it published to other platforms as an epub file (and other formats). Not least, I wouldn’t be comfortable with Amazon having a monopoly on it. I spent several evenings using a well-known search engine trying to find out what would be the best route to get the book onto iTunes and other epub sellers. The more I looked at it, the more similar the structure seemed to selling second-hand books.
Selling used books for me started on the Advanced Book Exchange. It was a friendly affair and there was little attempt by ABE to get between the seller and buyer, and ABE let the seller have most of the sale price. There were other websites which accounted for a small percentage of sales, but ABE was the main player. Things have changed somewhat, commission and card-handling fees are now hefty, and my second-hand book sales are now probably c.75% through Amazon, 23% through Abebooks (as it is now called, and owned by Amazon), with the other 2% or so through smaller sites like Biblio, AntiQbook, and my own website; there are and have been a plethora of ‘others’ which I have long since given up on.
From what I could gather by reading around, the majority of ebook sales are through Amazon, with a smaller number of iTunes sales, and a very few through Kobo, Nook, plus a plethora of ‘others’ which return none. I therefore decided to concentrate initially on the three sites Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble, and not worry too much about the others. How to get the book into epub format? I discovered it’s not actually that hard to produce an epub file. Use the right software and load it with a properly formatted Word document and an epub file pops out the other end. I’m not sure why paying one of the many services available to convert your file is so expensive.
From my research it became apparent that I would probably use an aggregator. Apart from anything else, not using an aggregator can make it necessary to have a US bank account, and to be VAT registered. For those who don’t know, an aggregator is like a distributor, a company that, for a percentage or your royalties, will make your book available through a number of sites; they can also turn your document into an epub file for you.
The old boy of aggregators appears to be Smashwords, and they distribute to a long list. A newer company is Draft2Digital, who were then only distributing to iTunes, Kobo and Nook, as well as making the book available to download on their own website in various formats. For a number of reasons I decided to try D2D first.
Registering with them was straightforward, I supplied them with my EIN (see Part 1) and I already had the book as a Word file which I duly uploaded.
Pricing is an odd question. How much is an ebook worth? As a dyed-in-the-wool physical book junkie my gut feeling is ‘not a lot’, it’s too ephemeral. But the author has still put a lot of work into it, and after all, it’s the intellectual property that’s important, regardless of how it’s delivered. But it’s a balancing act – price it too high and sales will be low, price it too low and there’s hardly any royalties. Pricing on some sites is based on a US dollar price, so the UK (GBP) price can annoyingly appear as an odd amount as the exchange rate fluctuates.
Once the formalities are done and the ‘publish’ button clicked on, nothing happens for quite a while. The book is submitted to the relevant platforms and eventually gets accepted, and is therefore ‘published’.
A little while after listing the book with D2D they added Scribd to the list of sites they upload to, and more recently Page Foundry. Neither addition has seen the book flying off the eshelves.
And do the orders come rushing in from anywhere? Not without some publicity, and how to do that? Social media is the most obvious means, and doing some tweeting from Boudicca Books' account brought in the odd order.
Next the book went onto a number of other platforms (including library distribution) through Smashwords, where you can also buy the download in various formats. Getting the book into a suitable format for them is more difficult - they are very prescriptive about what their 'meat grinder' (what they call their conversion software) will and won't accept, and it took about two hours to reformat the document. There is a lengthy 'style guide' which I followed assiduously - even so, the first upload failed; but it was one very minor problem which I corrected and then it was accepted without a problem. It took several weeks for the book to work through the system and become available (it still doesn't seem to be on some sites yet, including W H Smith and Waterstones, which should be supplied by Kobo), and sales are now much the same as on other sites - i.e. very low.
I’ve listed the book in the bibliography on Francis’s ‘Author Central’ page at Amazon, which may produce a few sales - Amazon is the only site where there are regular sales.
The next part of the project, which is still in its early stages, is to work with the team at the Flag Fen visitor attraction to enable their visitors to buy the ebook on-site. Not as straightforward as a real book, but it appears to be theoretically feasible. I've left the ball in their court at the moment, but I can see that there may be a number of obstacles to overcome; if it does get sorted out it I fear it will be by the autumn when they are ready to close for the winter.
So, has it been worth it? It's too early to tell, even though it's been over three months since the Kindle version has been available, much less for the epub - in fact, some of the channels at Smashwords are still awaiting distribution, and some of those that it has distributed to are yet to make the book available. So, perhaps it will be next year before sales speed up. The long timescale so far is why it's taken a while for this second part of the blog post to appear, I've been waiting for things to happen.
One thing I do know: yet another similarity between second-hand bookselling and ebook publishing is that the monetary return on time invested is risibly small.

Booksellers in the Blogosphere

Another quick round-up of recent blog posts by a range of booksellers:

Barbara's from March House Books always beautiful blog has some stunning book covers and she has also been visiting Hay-on-Wye.

Nigel has been reviewing Kevin Eldon’s My Prefect Cousin: a short biography of Paul Hamilton. I've not come across comedian Kevin Eldon before but since reading Nigel's excellent review I've been enjoying what Youtube has to offer.

Marijana and Heather haven't been blogging recently (booksellers are busy folk!) but both have excellent Facebook pages. There is a fascinating range of snippets on Peakirk Books page, and Marijana has some great little posts on bookcovers to tie in with her other job co-running Books4Looks.

Stella Books have a Rupert Book as book of the week no doubt inspired by their visit to the Followers of Rupert 31st Annual meeting in Warwick.

Mike from A Book for All Reasons has been following the adventures of Old Front Line as they fund raise for ex-servicemen.

Karen Millward has been cataloguing some lovely Irish postcards, and Stephen Foster has been tweeting about lizards and Victorian strangeness.

As for me on Juxtabook I've been reviewing Josephine Tey and believe it or not Goodbye, Mr Chips as well as chatting about film adaptations of books.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Primary source edition

A phrase that seems to have crept in to bookselling jargon recently is 'primary source edition'. I first noticed it when it was used to describe a book I bought on Ebay this week. I had assumed that it was just the seller's way of saying that it was the first edition or a very early reprint because I recognised the edition from his online image but when he later apologised for mis-describing the book I decided I must try and establish what the expression means.

In brief, it seems to have been adopted by the publishers of 'print-on-demand' books to indicate that they had scanned the original edition of the title. Thus a 'primary source edition' sounds rather better than it really is (and was fortunately not what I had bought on Ebay!). For full details of the brief research and some of the faults likely to be encountered with 'primary source editions' see the account on ABfaR's blog.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Booksellers in the Blogosphere

A quick round-up of recent blog posts by a range of booksellers:

Jane has been reviewing a selection of books by the Pullein-Thompson sisters amongst others. I Rode a Winner by Christine Pullein-Thompson  is a recent one. Jane describes is as, "probably my favourite Christine Pullein-Thompson". I'm always delighted by Jane's reviews as they evoke many childhood memories. As a child I wrote what was probably a very boring letter to Christine Pullein-Thompson and to my delight she very kindly wrote back telling me about her life in Suffolk and her dogs and horses. I treasured that letter and must have read it hundreds of times. It is sadly now lost in the land where things of one's childhood disappear to...

Marijana has been Finding Flegon, writing on the difficulties of dating a copy of Solzhenitsyn’s ‘A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ by the controversial publisher Alec Flegon. These little byways mean booksellers should never work out what they earn by hour as we can spend so long nailing down some aspect of bibliography for just one book, as Mike noted on his recent blog post.

Nigel has been hosting his daughter Alice (who more usually blogs on theatre here) as she reviews Flag Fen: a Concise Archæoguide. You can read Nigel's thoughts on getting this book, by the archaeologist Francis Pryor, out in e-book form here.

Barbara has been taking a break in the most charming way that only a specialist children's bookseller could manage.

And finally, I've written on the often missed delights of the village of Wycoller and its Brontë connection. When you're on your way to the honeypot attractions of the north of England slow down and give Wycoller a few hours of your attention.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Amazon shooting themselves in the foot?

Against a background today's news lead in Sheppards Newsletter and other press reports of the negotiations between the internet selling giant Amazon and the book publishers Hachette, a point has come to my mind of special interest to our end of the bookselling world.

My understanding is that Amazon proposes that they should be authorised to 'print on demand' any new title that they do not have on hand and which is not immediately available from the publisher.

Is the bookselling side of Amazon Marketplace worth so little to them? As a seller of secondhand books I have found no market for second-hand 'print-on-demand' books, it fact it seems that most of them only exist to cater for the instant need of the buyer and have no residual value. At a time when nearly everyone else is seeking to preserve scarce resources Amazon seems to be profligate in their aim of making a sale.

I don't sell on Amazon Marketplace but it strikes me that by fulfilling orders with a print-on-demand alternative when stocks of new books are low Amazon are removing the books that will become the stock-in-trade of their Marketplace sellers of the future.

Sources: Sheppards Newsletter, Bookseller, Guardian, Telegraph

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Cataloguing

One of the hazards of cataloguing is to become too interested in your stock. If you take into account the financial value of your time, the value that you add by giving a good description of a book can be totally undermined if are drawn into reading it.

Mike Sims' latest post on his blog concerning 'The Time of my Life - A Frontier Doctor in Alaska' by Harry C. de Vighne is a case in point. At least he has turned a cautionary tale of cataloguing into a review of the book, where none existed amongst the currently available second-hand stock. A gap in the available information has thus been filled but he will never recover the cost and he hasn't the courage to work out his hourly rate even if the book sells immediately!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Publishing an ebook: a steep learning curve (Part 1)

A couple of years ago Francis Pryor wrote an ebook, FlagFen: a Concise Archæoguide, but recently the publisher decided his company was moving on to new projects and so the book became unavailable. As Francis is my brother-in-law I offered to see whether it would be possible for me to make it available again, in my innocence thinking it might be a reasonably straightforward process. I had the original files available, but unfortunately the original copy was a Pages document, and I am Macless.
After pondering on how to convert this into a Word document I realised that Francis should have one. After a short hunt he emailed me his original, but unproof-read copy; I then had the task of bringing this text into line with the previously published ebook. Proof-reading is a thankless task: I had to go through the document twice, and then a third time using the function in Word’s Review menu which will compare two versions of a document, before I was happy with it.
Next I had to find out what format the text had to be: there are specific ways to show chapter breaks and titles, sizes of images and how to insert them and their captions, even how paragraph breaks are handled are important to how the book will display.
Once I had all this under my belt, and as I already have an Amazon seller account I decided to start there. The first thing I found was that it’s necessary to set up a separate KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account. The second thing I discovered was that to set up a KDP account it’s mandatory to complete an online tax interview with the American Internal Revenue Service.
With a little wider research it transpired that I needed a number called an EIN; this involves filling in Form SS4, which isn’t at all difficult, but for some bizarre reason, if you’re outside the US, it is only possible to do this over the phone to the IRS in Philadelphia.
I duly filled in a copy of the form and rang the number. After an initial little speech I was told I was in a queue of between 30 minutes and an hour, so I hung up. On reflection, I decided that ringing at 0905 EST wasn’t sensible, so the following day I tried again at just after 6am EST (mid-morning here) and the call was answered almost immediately. The call took 18 minutes, longer than one might expect to read off the answers on quite a short form, but having to spell out every word to the operator slowed things down a bit - and then at the end she had to read the whole form back to me, spelling out everything (yes, even U-N-I-T-E-D K-I-N-G-D-O-M). Once I had agreed that this was all correct I was issued with my EIN, the magic number that allows withholding of tax to the IRS under the relevant international treaties. I am still waiting for the letter which will include details of when and what sort of returns I will have to make, but I will worry about that (possibly quite a lot) when it arrives.
So, back to the KDP website to complete form W-8BEN, having looked up the bank account’s IBAN and BIC codes, and submit the form. I think it was once this was complete I was able to upload the Word document to be converted into a Mobi file.
Once that had uploaded and been accepted by Amazon (there was a short wait for that) the next stage was to decide on pricing and royalty levels. We’d decided to keep it the same price as previously. Amazon offer the choice of two royalty levels – 35% or 70%. Why, I thought, would someone choose to only get 35%? I read the ‘Pricing Page’, or as much as I could before my brain glazed over, and set the royalty rate at 70%. I still didn’t understand what benefit there could be in asking Amazon to give you only half as much money as you might get.
The next step was to set pricing for Amazon.com, .co.uk, .in, .fr, .de, .es, .it, .co.jp, .com.br, .ca, .com.mx, and .com.au, to be told when that was done that the American, Indian, Japanese, Brazilian and Mexican royalties are only 35% unless the book is enrolled in KDP Select. So on to look at the page explaining what that is, and where the main benefits of KDP Select became apparent. They seem to be threefold – to be able to offer your book for free, to enable people to borrow the book (for free), and to give KDP exclusive right to publish your book.
Deciding not to do enrol in KDP Select was the last step, I think. It took a little while (about twelve hours, or so) for the book to appear online. So that’s that, and now you can buy a mobi copy of Flag Fen: aConcise Archæoguide for your Kindle. If you want to find it in your own country’s Amazon site you can search for B00K6JD1Z6. It’s available on all of them except  for China.
Next was to investigate which platforms to sell the epub version on, and how. But that’s for Part 2.
This post was originally published on Bagotbooks's blog. You can follow the publisher of the ebook on Twitter.
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