Monday, January 17, 2011

My Thoughts on the Brave New World: Nonfiction

We talked a little last year about “the brave new world” of publishing and how authors can take advantage of self-epublishing, the pros and the cons. I’ve been thinking a lot about epublishing and what it means for the publishing business, and I have a lot of opinions (surprise, surprise) on the topic. Now, I’m not in the know on what publishing execs are planning, but if they are not looking down the line and thinking in new directions, we’re all in a lot of trouble.

One of my thoughts is about nonfiction, specifically self-help nonfiction. You know, things like parenting books, business books, do-it-yourself type of books. In my opinion, these subject areas are going to be some of the hardest hit in the years to come, primarily because authors with platforms might find that they can do it on their own, or keep their audiences better updated through the Internet and their own sources. Seth Godin and his decision to dump his publisher and do it himself is a perfect example of this.

So what do I think publishers need to do to keep updated and what do I think they should do to keep readers happy. It’s really simple if you ask me (or one of my ideas is simple). When a business author comes to you with his amazing new idea, you publish the book as you normally do through normal channels. You issue a print version, an epub version, and any other versions the market can support. And then, when an update occurs, let’s say it’s an update to chapter 10 on tax laws for the small business owner, instead of updating the entire book and selling it again for $9.99 (and incurring all the production costs of doing so), you update only chapter 10 and sell it for $1.99. When buyers of the original book want an update, they can simply buy that chapter, which should (tech guys, pay attention) automatically update and replace the chapter of the book they already have in their ereader.

Let’s use a popular pregnancy book as another example. Every woman buys this book when she first learns she’s pregnant and then uses it with each subsequent pregnancy. But let’s say her pregnancies are five years apart. A lot can change in five years. Sure, the core information is still there, but the book has had some updates, maybe a new edition, but mom-to-be doesn’t feel like shelling out another $9.99 for the book. She’ll just use what she has and read the Internet for the rest. On the other hand, she would consider shelling out $2.99 for an update to the book she’s already using, something that would give her all the new information without costing her nearly as much. Think software update.

Sounds simple in theory anyway, and, if you ask me, it’s a win-win for everyone. Readers will have an easy way to always keep the information in their ereader current, publishers and authors can continually make money on the same book and keep that book current, and it’s a great way to use this new technology in a way that makes sense.



Stephanie Faris said...

I have the Kindle app on my iPhone and I still have trouble with the price of e-books. I've never been a hardback buyer...I always waited for paperback. The prices are cheaper than hardbacks but more expensive than paperbacks. I just can't afford $9-$10 for a book I could get for $6 in paperback. I have a feeling I'm not the only one who feels that way. I'd embrace the technology if it were cheaper than paperback (which it should be, considering there are no paper costs). Personally, I prefer to listen to self-help books on audio.

wry wryter said...

Just a thought.
As the glut of the boomer-bunch moves through our population like a goat through an anaconda I’m wondering if they, the older buying public, will, as you young-uns do, actually embrace the whole e-reader thing. The assumption that e-readers will be the norm I’m thinking might not be the given it is professed to be. (Updates taken into account.) Once we’re all gone to that great library in the sky, who knows, but for the present aren’t we kind of jumping on a bandwagon with a squeaky wheel.

Now...this is from a person who thought VCR’s were a stupid waste of money, a Sony-walkman would never replace transistor radios, home-computers were lunacy and cell phones were the stupidest device devised by man.
I have an HD-DVR TV, two desk-tops a lap-top and four cell phones, (family plan). I’m still holding out on the e-reader. Call me old fashioned...go ahead...I’m okay with that...but there’s something about turning a page and the smell of a new book. I’m holding out folks.

Okay...maybe I need a self-help book about books.

Colette said...

Jessica, that is a truly fantastic idea -- one that is a win-win for all parties involved.

Cynthia said...

Personally I tend to agree with wry wryter. I love the feel and smell of a new book. I do believe that younger generations might move towards the ebooks more, but I am a firm believer is paper back books. I just can't see myself sitting at the beach or the pool reading my ereader. What if someone steals it? Paper back though, I don't think I have to worry about someone stealing.

As for only changing the chapter and updating it on the ebook? Great idea Jessica, I hope the tech people are listening.

ryan field said...

Sounds like a good idea. I've already seen many comments on fiction review blogs where voracious readers are not looking forward to paying 9.99 for backlisted e-book releases. They think of them as paperbacks and expect to pay less.

Angela James said...

O'Reilly, who does non-fiction, has done a great job of experimenting with a number of models, including a print/digital model, and digital/print pricing experimentation, and they publish DRM-free. They've been good about publicly sharing their findings on their different experiments with the industry.

But the reason I mention them is because they offer free updates to anyone who's purchased the digital book. You don't have to re-purchase it, you just download the new version. I've heard a number of customers speak very positively of this experience.

Nancy S. Thompson said...

Very clever idea but I run along the same planes as Wry Wryter & what Cynthia said about sitting poolside & fearing her e-reader might be stolen...I never even thought of that. So true. Add that to my many reasons why I likely will never buy one.

Fawn Neun said...

This is a similar approach used by the creators of technical manuals. When information changes or is updated, subscribers to the manual are given either amendments or replacement chapters. I can see it working for strictly non-fiction work. It's a great idea.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I've been considering doing this with my Demo Tapes short story anthologies. I'm thinking of issuing free coupons via Smashwords each time I update a version that would include all the stories. It won't be automatic, but it WILL be free.

I don't know how well it would work to have the updated chapter tack itself on to an already existing document, but I can see how that would be on the horizon. That could open up some fun promo possibilities for people like me, whose updated content would be spread throughout the book.

And, of course, there ARE authors who currently do update their books. E-publishing makes it so easy to do.

Angela James said...

And, of course, there ARE authors who currently do update their books. E-publishing makes it so easy to do.

This is not exactly true. In fact, because of the production, formatting and conversion steps involved, as well as the necessity of reuploading to each place the book is sold, the process of changing and updating can be quite time consuming and costly. Yes, it's easier than print, but it's not easy!

Anonymous said...

"And, of course, there ARE authors who currently do update their books. E-publishing makes it so easy to do."

I do actually do this with older short stories that were out in print a while back. I update, revise, and release each one as a short story e-book with one particular e-publisher. But the prices are always kept low.

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Funny - I was just arguing the other day that this is the future for textbooks, especially for scientific subjects.

Christopher Burgess said...

You're spot-on. While hard copy books will never disappear, the transition to "green" e-books is well on its way to eclipse the hard copy versions. Your thought on updating only a chapter vice reprint a whole book will demonstrate a level of prescience on your part.
All the best,

Douglas L. Perry said...

Interesting point of view Jessica. As a user of a lot of software updates (I'm a software engineer) my only concern is that if I have a current book, and I buy the update, I want to know what was updated. I don't want to have to re-read the entire new edition and try to find it.

I can imagine on an e-reader having the ability to mark the new content with a bold font, or larger font, or in some other way to show what was updated. I would find that very useful.