Lee Foster’s Ebook Publishing Revolution

POSTED ON Jan 18, 2012

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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by Lee Foster

Today I welcome a friend from the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA), travel book author Lee Foster, an energetic practitioner in the ongoing ebook publishing revolution around us. Lee is a veteran and award-winning travel journalist whose work has won eight Lowell Thomas Awards, the highest awards in travel journalism.

You can see more about Lee’s articles, photos, 10 books, and 4 apps on his website at www.fostertravel.com. Beyond ebooks, Lee has been a pioneer in app publishing.

In this article Lee focuses on “The Ebook Publishing Revolution.” Lee has just released his independently-published print book as an ebook through BookBaby and will keep 100% of the net sales.

At the same time, one of Lee’s traditional print publishing partners has released ebooks of two of his earlier books, with Lee getting 20% of the net sales.

What will be the future of independent author/traditional publisher relationships? Lee has many insights into the current publishing scene, including the debt that writers/photographers owe to musicians, who led the way in digital publishing. Lee is impressed with the simplicity of ebook publishing files and has a perspective on the price of ebooks, always a controversial subject.

Here’s the first half of Lee’s article. Look out tomorrow for the conclusion.

We are in the midst of a fast-developing publishing revolution in ebooks. The most revolutionary aspect of the current scene is that I, as a travel writer/photographer, can publish an ebook of my work and keep 100% of the net sale.

I have done just that, publishing my travel literary book, Travels in an American Imagination: The Spiritual Geography of Our Time, for $2.99 in the Apple iBook Store, the Amazon Kindle Store, and the other viable stores for Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony Reader. The book also sells as a printed book for $14.95. The book won a Best Travel Commentary award from the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association.

The deal sounds too good to be true. When things sound too good to be true, they usually are not true. But this is an exception. My partner in this venture is an entity known as BookBaby.

Simultaneously, one of my traditional print book publishing partners, Countryman Press, has released two of my books published through them as ebooks in the same stores. The titles are The Photographer’s Guide to San Francisco and The Photographer’s Guide to Washington DC.

The Countryman price for these ebooks, which sell as print books at $14.95, are $9.95 in the Amazon Kindle Store and $10.95 in the Apple iBook Store. They pay me 20% of the net sale as my royalty.

A careful reader will already detect some issues with all the conflicting figures presented. What is the basis of price? What is the share of royalty? Where is this publishing drama headed? How will author/traditional publisher relationships evolve, given the revolution in process.

To understand what is happening, I present three aspects, which may at first seem ironic and tangential, but are, in fact, central to the discussion:

    1. The Ebook Publishing Link Between Musicians and Writers/Photographers
    1. The Layout Simplicity of Ebooks
  1. The Pricing of Ebooks

Let’s get started:

The Ebook Publishing Link Between Musicians and Writers/Photographers

Ironically, there is a special link between musicians and writers/photographers in the new publishing world of ebooks and apps.

Musicians have led the way in the publishing of digital files, meaning downloadable files or files on a CD product. Now writers/photographers are beginning to benefit from the publishing of digital files, meaning ebooks and apps, either downloadable or on a CD. Most of the activity and benefit is in the downloadable sector.

Writers/photographers owe a great debt of gratitude to musicians, who have created the ground-breaking relationships for selling in this manner in the new digital age.

An interesting expression of this relationship can be seen in a Portland-based company that started with the company named CDBaby and has now expanded to include an ebook-publishing branch called BookBaby.

CDBaby claims to have published music from more than 250,000 independent musical artists, paying them about $200 million in royalties. BookBaby hopes to do the same for writers/photographers who want to publish ebooks.

BookBaby, like CDBaby, has an unusual business model. They charge a small up-front fee of $199 for formatting and placement of the ebook in the main store structures (Amazon Kindle, Apple iBook, B&N Nook, and Sony Reader). There may be further charges for graphics-intensive layouts, cover design, and ISBN assignment (if the author doesn’t have his or her own ISBNs).

They also charge a longtail fee of $19/year to keep the ebook in their system for every year after the first year. Beyond that, they return to the creator 100% of all sales.

Ed: Readers of The Book Designer get a discount from BookBaby: simply use the coupon code jfbookman2 at checkout!

It sounds almost too good to be true. However, these people have vast experience with handling digital files and setting up automatic bullet-proof accounting systems in CDBaby, which has a similar revenue payout. So they can now make this same offer to writers/photographers. CDBaby/BookBaby describes itself as a “non-predatory” publisher.

I used BookBaby for my book, and it worked. My book looks great in both its Kindle and Apple versions. I will use BookBaby for two future ebooks I plan to do.

Joel has conducted two fascinating interviews with the CDBaby/BookBaby CEO, Brian Felsen. The most recent is at:

Brian Felsen of BookBaby.com on the Future of e-Books

and the earlier one is at:

e-Book Distribution with BookBaby’s Brian Felsen

Felsen comments that they have had so much success with musicians that it is easy for the company now to branch out to writers/photographers who want to market their products as ebooks. After all, digital files are digital files.

Ed: Tomorrow, in the conclusion to this article, Lee will explore his second and third points, The Layout Simplicity of Ebooks and the Pricing of Ebooks.

Photo by anitakhart

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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