Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the category “Publishing Trends – Ebooks & Tree Books”

Accidental Activist on Smashwords

The Accidental Activist is now available from Smashwords. I am excited about this as Smashwords is a very interesting organization. Its founder and CEO, Mark Coker, was an early visionary of the ebook revolution and recognized that with the constant technological explosion, there was room for a form of ebook that would fit any electronic format. Smashwords elegantly called their technology the Meatgrinder. I love the irony of this. One of the biggest wastes of the tree book industry is the returns policy that many large publishers offer which results in millions of books being printed, distributed, returned and pulped. Greenhouse effect, anyone?

I believe Smashwords uses more cutting edge technology.

On Sunday, Smashwords reached an interesting landmark. They have now produced an astonishing three billion words with over 70,000 books. To put it another way: “…in the last four months we averaged 8.3 million words a day. This works out to about 350,000 words per hour, 5,700 words per minute or almost 100 words per second. Can you hear the keyboards clicking?”

Yes, I can. And all this in less than four years. Smashwords have other attributes. They allow the author/publisher to set the price, and offer vouchers with discounts. They helped sponsor a program where authors offered ebooks for free to US servicemen and women serving in combat zone. I participated in Operation Ebook Drop and gave away more than 100 books during this period.

Mark Coker is a tireless crusader for the Ebook industry and you can see from his articles, countless speeches and panel appearances that he is passionate about his work and his vision.

Mark Coker often speaks in the Bay Area

I love my kindle, but i must admit that I found a flaw. As Smashwords reached it’s 3 billion word landmark, my kindle screen came up blank. I concede – this has never happened with any tree book that I’ve read. Now where is that warranty?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Who’s Connected?

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press “is an independent, non-partisan public opinion research organization that studies attitudes toward politics, the press and public policy issues. In this role it serves as a valuable information resource for political leaders, journalists, scholars and citizens.”

They recently issued three reports on which communication tools we are using.  Here is a very brief overview.

Smartphone Adoption and Usage

  • 35% of all US adults have a smartphone.
  • The biggest users — those with income of $75K or more, college degree, under age 45, African-American or Latino.
  • Some 87% of smartphone owners access the internet or email on their handheld; 25% of smartphone owners say that they mostly go online using their phone, rather than with a computer.

It's fast and smells good!

E-reader & Tablet Ownership

  • E-reader ownership has doubled in last six months, to 12% of US adults.
  • Tablet ownership, now at 8%, appears to be leveling off; 17% of those with $75K+ income own one, and 13% of college grads.
  • Confirming the overall trend toward adoption of mobile devices, laptop computers are for the first time as popular as desktop computers among U.S. adults.

Ebooks - the future is now.

Social Networking Sites and Our Lives

  • 47% of US adults use at least one social network site (SNS), close to double the number in 2008.
  • Half these users are now over the age of 35.
  • 92% are using Facebook, 18% LinkedIn, 13% Twitter.

However, here is what really excited me:

“At that time, 10% of Americans reported that they had attended a political rally, 23% reported that they had tried to convince someone to vote for a specific candidate, and 66% reported that they had or intended to vote. Internet users in general were over twice as likely to attend a political meeting, 78% more likely to try and influence someone’s vote, and 53% more likely to have voted or intended to vote.  Compared with other internet users, and users of other SNS platforms, a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day was an additional two and half times more likely to attend a political rally or meeting, 57% more likely to persuade someone on their vote, and an additional 43% more likely to have said they would vote.”

The premise of my novel, The Accidental Activist, written several years prior to this report, was the vision that the Internet and its various platforms would become a catalyst for more political and social advocacy.

It is still the beginning, but a very exciting beginning.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Insights from the London Book Fair

The London Book Fair has traditionally been a trade conference that  reflects the industry’s direction on a global level. This year, the publisher of a friend of mine sent out a report to his authors describing his experience. It is a personal impression rather than a factual description and we should remember that this was one man’s perspective. But I found it so interesting that I felt I had to share some of his thoughts.


As with many authors who are not A-list or mid-listers, I have seen a general rise in the percentage of book sales in e-book form compared to tree books. There are months where I sell more e-books and these are becoming increasingly common. This might be because The Accidental Activist appeals to a socially and environmentally aware crowd who are comfortable with their Kindles and iPads. It also might be a cheaper way to check out an author with whom you are not familiar. The Accidental Activist in trade paperback sells for $11.50 and the e-book for $3.99.

However, it is interesting that the prevailing feeling at the London Book Fair focused on the emergence of the e-book. Publishers, CEO’s, distributors and editors packed the seminars that related to digital publishing. This publisher actually suggested that these industry professionals were ‘obsessed’ with the topic.


Brian Murray, the President and CEO of HarperCollins, said in his address that for some of his company’s front list titles more than 50% of sales are for digital formats. Mr. Murray stated that this was “a watershed” moment for the book trade.

He continued by adding that US e-readers grew from 15 million to 40 million in the past year. This growth “was having a disproportionately large effect on the market because they had reached ‘core’ readers, defined as those buying more than 12 books a year. ‘Some of the heaviest book buyers no longer visit bookstores.’

It is a universal business rule that it is easier to sell more products to a loyal customer than the first sale to a new customer. Mr. Murray went on to say that if these people are not visiting bookstores but buying online, then this fundamental shift is only the tip of the iceberg for the publishing industry.


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

The Debate Continues

Last month I posted about an author making a living  from selling his fiction through e-books. A friend of mine sent me an update about J. A. Konrath from Henry Baum’s excellent blog about self-publishing.

“Amazon Encore is going to release Konrath’s next novel digitally and in print. AmazonEncore is “a new program whereby Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate.”

While there is much discussion around the self-publishing route, I think the reality is in the effectiveness of marketing and promotion. For the traditionally published author, there is still a lot of work to do to sell your book and see royalties, even more so perhaps than a self-publisher as you see far less money per book sold. Since publishers only really market their A-list authors, any struggling author regardless of how published needs to have a marketing strategy.

Promoting your platform and books can, for the self-published author be more than just royalties. It can also be about creating enough noise to be picked up by a bigger publisher. This is what happened with Konrath and, the fact that it is Amazon picking up the author adds a whole new dimension.

Some shameless promotion – a friend of mine from the California Writer’s Club is Francine Thomas Howard. She is also a recipient of the Amazon Encore with her novel Page From a Tennessee Journal. It is a historical novel dealing with racial tension in the south. Hearing Francine read makes it very memorable.  And I’ve just heard that Amazon Encore have signed Francine’s next novel, Paris Noire.

The only thing for certain in this business, is that nothing is certain, and nothing is going to stay the same.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

An Open Letter to Jeff Bezoz, Founder of Amazon.com & the Kindle

Dear Mr. Bezos,

Firstly, thank you for thinking up the idea of Amazon.com. I’m a big fan – I read books that I buy from Amazon, I write books that I sell on Amazon, and I love my Kindle, both to read books and to think of how we are positively impacting the environment. I have just written a number of blog entries on the e-book revolution and also the tragedy of the pulping industry.

I learned that many of the books that are pulped are textbooks because they are constantly being updated. Now I realize that this good for business, but it is bad for the trees (and therefore us). I just can’t get over the images of books being pulped and left in huge garbage tips. Perhaps it is a Jewish thing – I once witnessed a perfectly rational friend totally lose control of himself when he saw someone burning old moldy books.

His parents were Holocaust survivors who had once boasted a house full of packed bookcases. While some of the family survived, his house had been burned with all the books inside. I have since learned that this is a common in many Holocaust survivors and their offspring, as Nazis piled Jewish books in the street and burned them.

I digress. I work with university students, Mr. Bezos, and they are hurting. They are going into debt for their studies, living expenses and textbooks. Their parents can’t help them and more than a few of my students have taken on a second job to send money to their families. This is not some 3rd or 4th world country, sir, it is San Francisco. And I am sure it is all over Depression-hit America.

So here is my idea, Mr. Bezos, and it is win:win, so bear with me.

1. Every student who enrolls in a state-run university or community college (I would like you to consider all colleges and universities if you can) receives a Kindle in their freshman year, for FREE.

2. They receive generous discounts on their textbooks for three years – we can give them a code that expires then. Moreover, they get updated versions of a textbook they purchased for $1.


What do you get out of this?

1. The gratitude of a generation that saw you reach out to them when they were struggling.

2. Hundreds of thousands of loyal customers. These students will get used to purchasing through Amazon. They will get hooked on the ever-evolving Kindle (because you will ensure that it will always be cutting edge) and on the concept of e-books, of which you are the biggest seller in the world.

3. These students will, we assume emerge from school and the depression into young professionals with spending power and disposable income. They will also have a buying habit and brand loyalty.

4. Help stop the terrible waste of resources, of trees being cut down while global warming increases.

5. Help stop the senseless pulping of books because they have been printed without demand and/or have become out dated.

6. Fame and fortune for doing the right thing for the American people when they most needed it.

On behalf of our students and the planet, I thank you for considering this. Here’s to a bright future for us all.


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

E-books and the Gift Season

Just in time for the 2010 holiday season, Kindle launched a framework to buy books for other people. For details, please follow the link: (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_left_sib?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200555070). Kindle book gifting allows customers to buy Kindle book(s) as holiday gifts for their friends/family.

We, as authors, may also gift our own title(s) to our friends and loved ones.  For more details for authors on gifting, please see our publisher FAQ – http://forums.digitaltextplatform.com/dtpforums/entry!default.jspa?categoryID=25&externalID=552&fromSearchPage=true.

Finally, my offering for a rainy weekend when all you want to do is curl up on the sofa with a good boo–downloaded digital e-book.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

The Seismic Upheavals We All Knew Would Happen (the Book Industry)

One needs to be careful writing headlines with seismic in the Bay Area – hence the clarification at the end. We all know that the book business is suffering and that brick-and-mortar shops are closing. I am sure that most of us mourn for an independent bookstore that has nostalgic memories.

So I am not sure why I am so surprised to hear the latest news out about Borders and Barnes & Noble. I prefer to walk into an independent bookstore when given the choice, but I need to admit, I also enjoy the inevitable comforts of a parking lot, a big bargain bin of hard covers that I could never afford otherwise, the bathrooms, and the occasional amazing deal. My local Barnes & Noble even has a fake fireplace that I enjoy sitting near in winter as I write.

But Barnes & Noble has now been put up for sale. I cannot help but wonder who would want to invest in such an industry. You can only assume that they would have quite a strategic business plan in place.

Borders have already closed all their stores in the UK and apparently came close to bankruptcy in the US. Both companies have entered the digital market with the Nook and Kobo respectively, so even a change of strategy suggests a move away from brick-and-mortar.

As an author, I have not had many opportunities to read at a bookstore. I find more interest at community centers, writer’s meetings and political groups. I rarely sell a book through a bookstore. So I am not sure why I mourn the possible extinction of the bookstore.

There are/were two legendary bookstores in the Bay Area. Cody’s was an untouchable institution and when I first came to live in Berkeley, I was surprised how when going out for a coffee with a friend, we would often spend a part of that evening talking while browsing through the shelves. Cody’s was mourned by the enlightened peoples of Berkeley when it closed its’ doors a few years ago, but apparently not enough to keep it open.

City Lights survives in San Francisco. It hit the headlines as a beacon for the beatnik writers who used the shop and publishing arm, and sat next door writing their works at Vesuvio. I love the store and seek an excuse to go in when I am in the vicinity. I almost always buy a book – even on my limited budget – because I don’t want to see it fall. There is something immensely valuable in the history and energy amassed there. I’m sure it was like that at Cody’s, but energy and nostalgia doesn’t pay the bills.

Not that I understand the stock market, but I believe that one of the few companies whose stock has steadily risen over the last two years is Amazon.com.

Is the writing on wall, the screen, and in the stock portfolio?

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

Book Promotion Strategy

I recently spoke to a group of fellow struggling authors and just adapted my notes to respond to a friends question about how to market his forthcoming book. Here is a summary of my notes:

Overall Strategy: Focus on Amazon, blogging and social networking.

1. Reviews – find 2-3 mid-level authors in your genre and ask them for reviews. Also find on local TV or radio people who have book or culture shows. Their names might not be recognizable, but their station is. These are future blurbs and important.

Find 10 people who will enjoy reading your book (not with your family name) and give them copies asking them to write on Amazon. Also once the book is up, you will hear from people who enjoyed it – ask them to review on Amazon. If you have trouble finding people, Amazon has a reviewer’s program – this doesn’t guarantee a good review, but guarantees that someone will read and post.

2. Get hold of The Author’s Guide to Building an Online Platform – Stephanie Chandler. Main thrust – a website and blog. Check out my website – I researched about 20 author websites before deciding on the website’s structure.

3. Online Forums: Have a signature (see mine at bottom of post – with link to Amazon pages). Participate in online forums and every time you post, add your signature at bottom. Don’t plug your book in the text, it is annoying and turns people off, but if you write an intelligent comment in a post, people will check you out. I have made a mistake of participating in too many forums for writers – my new publisher is pushing me to focus on groups that are relevant to the theme of my book – political activism for me).

4. Blog – this is very effective and requires more than a blog post to discuss it. I know an author, Lloyd Lofthouse, who has a specific and exhausting strategy and is succeeding to sell his e-books through his blog.

5. Kindle – yes you should have your book in e-book form. The topic of yes/no is exhausted and history. It costs about $200 to convert to Kindle, but is worth it. I have my book at Smashwords, which is free, and can d/load to every device out there now including iPad. I have not seen many sales there, but this might be my fault. Also, Kemble Scott swears by Scribd – I put my book up there, but also haven’t seen much – again probably my fault.

My suggestion/summary:
You only have a certain amount of time during the day to promote your books. Decide on one strategy and stick to it. Kemble Scott and the guy who is blogging like crazy are good examples. I am not.

My new publisher is pressing me to:
1. Blog like crazy
2. Focus on Amazon and leave bookstores etc.
3. Comment on online forums about political advocacy on Amazon and kindle boards.

This will be my focus since he is kind of my boss now. There are 2 books about Amazon.
Sell Your Book on Amazon – Brent Sampson
Another by a guy called Shepherd that I can’t find (if you know the book, please leave the title in comments). In searching for this, I just d/loaded another ( for .99cents on kindle) and will let you know if it is any good.

Also as a general resource book:
1001 Ways to Market Your Books, Sixth Edition (1001 Ways to Market Your Books: For Authors and Publishers) – John Kramer.

Good Writing,
Alon

ALON SHALEV
Oilspill dotcom – in paperback & currently on Amazon’s Kindle for $3.19.
More info at http://www.alonshalev.com/

The Price of an ebook

In a recent blog post I referred to a marketing report that detailed the exploding market of ebook readers and the growth in the sales of ebooks. I just came across a draft that I had planned to share with you when Amazon.com seemed resistant to lowering the price of my kindle version of Oilspill dotcom from $9.99.

The basis of my argument was not just that the price was too high, but that I had another distributor, Smashwords, selling the ebook in all formats at $4.99. My kindle version of Oilspill dotcom was eventually reduced to $4.99 and actually began to sell. I have just noticed that Amazon.com have now further reduced the price to $3.19.

Fair enough. But this has got me thinking what exactly should the price of an ebook be? There are hardly any costs involved after the initial set up. There are website overheads, promotion etc., but no trees are being felled, replaced, distributed and returned.

For my recent birthday, friends gave me gift vouchers for Amazon, so that I could begin building a library on my newly purchased kindle. I am, now the consumer, finding myself dismissing anything over $10 on principle, and skeptical about a book over $5.

Jeff Rivera wrote an interesting article: Writers: Making a Living Off of Kindle? (Apr 19, 2010). He interviewed J. A. Konraith, the author of the Jack Daniels detective series. Mr. Konraith is making a living primarily off of his ebooks and is justifiably proud of it. He points out that he is making more from his digital books than his tree books (luv the name!). I will cover this article in the future, but want to share one particular aspect here.

Mr. Konraith sells his latest novels for $2.99. With Amazon’s new royalty system, he will make $2.04 off each book. He sells his older novels for $1.99. The idea behind this is that people will probably hear of his latest and read that first. After enjoying the book, they can go in and order 5 for $10. They are now packed for their vacation! Even if they order them one at a time, his books are at the price level of an impulse purchase for most people.

I love the idea of responding to the question of how much my book costs with: “Less than that cup of coffee you’re holding. And it doesn’t cool off as you read your way through.” Not sure I’ll persuade Starbucks to make my novel their Pick of the Month!

I would be interested to know what price you are willing to pay for a novel when you download to your eReader, computer, or phone?

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www/alonshalev.com/

Ebook Market Exploding, Says New IDPF Survey

Ebook Market Exploding, Says New IDPF Survey

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