Facing the first truly electronic Christmas as an Independent Publisher

Steve Emecz runs independent London publishers MX Publishing specialising in NLP and therapy books. He talks us through the huge growth in e-book sales over 2010, what he anticipates for Christmas and into 2011: We are facing the first truly electronic Christmas trading period in the book publishing industry, and looking back on the last twelve months it has been an incredible period of change.

In November 2009 we were preparing for Christmas in a fairly traditional way as a publisher. Getting stocks in, a series of signings with Borders and Waterstones, and ten new books - everyone wants to be out for the big selling period.

Twelve months on and the publishing industry has changed beyond recognition. Borders have gone from the UK (RIP – we will miss them) and the electronic revolution is truly here – eBooks, social media, eCommerce, and POD all coming into their own in 2010.

If anyone doubted the rise of the ebook the tipping point has well and truly arrived. The evidence is all around for us to see.

Let's start with Kindle. Amazon’s phenomenal ebook device goes from strength to strength with several key changes in 2010:

  • Kindle UK launched
  • A friend of mine in Amazon tells me that in most areas for every 10 physical books they sell, another 7 are sold on Kindle – its only a matter of months before electronic versions outsell physical ones
  • The new ‘low cost’ Kindle at around £100 is going to take sales to a whole new level. I sat in a printing industry event 8 years ago where a prototype e-reader was shown costing around £500 and the guy predicted that the minute they reached £100 you would see mass adoption – prophetic, watch this space as many of my friends who previously slated ebook readers have already treated themselves to an 'early Christmas present'

Intra-Amazon systems improvements are also beginning to show. Kindle integration now gets you USA and UK (yay!) and Amazon.fr and Amazon.de are picking up more detail and faster than before on printed books.

Apple launched the iPad and we got on the train (a little late perhaps) and now we launch all titles to iBooks in addition to Kindle. Sales are slow but building and we are still a little unsure how to do the marketing. You can at least link to a Kindle listing – how do you reach the iPad users? 

ebooks now account for over 20% of our sales – that’s happened in a year. If that isn’t rapid change I don’t know what is. I predict that topping 30% in 2011 for us.

Then comes distribution. Although the POD guys aren’t moving quite as fast as we’d like them to, progress is on reflection pretty rapid. Printing times are getting shorter, prices more competitive and speed to market all improving. We’ve launched several books in under a month this year from a standing start – if you’d told me that five years ago I would have called the men in white coats. We’ve also increased the number of books with more than a dozen titles in the last six weeks – lots of midnight oil burning.

The evolution in colour has meant we can take on even more specialist books. Zimbabwe in Pictures comes out on 6th December and is a full colour photography tour of the country from Keith Hern – colour print on demand, and the first of what we hope is a big series of travel books.

New booksellers are doing well – we particularly like the Book Depository model – free delivery worldwide is a great marketing tool and their clever delivery means that you can get books to most places. One note to the team there – with over 1 billion customers in India it’s a big gap not to have delivery to there.

eCommerce software has gone through a revolution too with the arrival of cloud computing. New platforms like Powa enabling an online store for a publisher in minutes. Customised designs like ours at MX Publishing have dropped in cost by more than 80%. Whilst most of our sales are still through the channels, our own site means we can do special bundles and discount vouchers for societies easily.

I could write for weeks about social media. It was already game changing and now at least most people have finally accepted that they need to have a proper social media strategy – its not just Facebook, but that’s a good place to start. Our specialist book groups on there are doing well but the really big challenge remains the author participation. Whether they like it or not authors have no choice but to engage with their ‘customer base’ through these channels and I must be getting on our authors nerves with the strong insistence that they at the very minimum have a blog. Before people buy a book many will Google the author to see if they are really an expert in their field and a good blog builds so much credibility. Twitter continues to grow, at least for us, though as with all these things it is harder work than it originally appears.

Overall its been a year of massive change and its only just begun. The coming twelve months promise to be even more disruptive, challenging and exciting. Adaptive and flexible publishers and booksellers will survive and prosper – others will struggle. Bring it on.

 

If you want to know more detail on the trials and tribulations of setting up ebooks you can read Steve's earlier piece here: 'An Independent Publisher Speaks Out About eBooks'.

 

Comments

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Quirky Traveller's picture

The world of e-books is new to me and I really enjoyed this article which had been sent to me via a friend. I set up a new business as a result of Twitter and am now developing it via FaceBook. I agree re the engagement with clients this way and am really excited about the global possibilities this brings. Am with you about the scale of change- and look forward to the coming challenges with anticipation and excitement. Thanks for introducing me to your site. 

An ebook is for life, not just for Christmas

cgwpublishing's picture

I would have thought that Christmas is a busy time because a book does make a lovely Christmas present. But an ebook? Maybe if you bought your loved one a Kindle or iPad and wanted to put their favourite books on it, I guess. But an ebook, by itself, as a Christmas present? Where do you put the ribbon?

Even gift vouchers are a bit disappointing on Christmas morning. We live in the age of instant gratification, so I want my present now, not when I've downloaded it.

As an independent publisher of business books, we're probably not going to sell many more titles at Christmas. Maybe we might sell a poetry book or a novel, or a hundred and one things to do with a dead iPad, but we feel that business titles such as The Pitching Bible are sold mainly when business demand is highest and when sales people find out what their new targets are.

Christmas is a time for bonuses and entertaining, not for honing your business skills.

I personally don't see ebooks replacing printed books, I see them as creating a new market segment, partly as a viable alternative to audio books for people who want to read while travelling, and partly as a low cost of entry method for publishing books that are so bad, they're not even worth the cost of self publishing.

However, the technology will continue to improve, and one day an e-ink book will look just like a paperback book, and then things really will have changed so much that they'll be just the same.

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