Posts Tagged ‘payout’

Photo of Chiostrino di Santa Maria Novella by Sailko

Photo of Chiostrino di Santa Maria Novella by Sailko

I love the novella form. The word “novella” is an Italian term meaning “story.” I thought it would be fun to use this photo of the Cloisters of Santa Maria Novella as an illustration. If a short story is like a snapshot of life, a novella is like a photograph that invites and explores a single issue. If you carry my analogy a bit further, the modern novel is more like a full length movie.

Longer than the longest short story and shorter than a novel, a novella is typically between 15,000 and 40,000 words in length. The length of the novella gives the author the freedom to explore a single issue in great depth not possible in a short story.

The novella form has a unity, a singular focus that can be lost in the plots and sub plots of a long novel. Here are a few examples of the novella:

  • Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”
  • Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”
  • Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”
  • Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”
  • George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”

Each of these fine works can be read in a single sitting. Single novellas in book form are rare because they are too short to meet the structural requirements of the printed book. When you can find novellas, they are often grouped into a quartet to meet print publishing requirements. I’d love to see a renaissance of the novella and the E-Book is the perfect format.

It’s time for a paradigm shift. Instead of viewing E-Books as digital versions of printed books, why not capitalize on the virtues of the E-Book instead? Freed of traditional production and distribution constraints imposed by printed books, E-Books can go where the printed book can’t.

Novellas, short stories, thoughtful essays, single articles are all E-Book candidates. Instead of being aggregated into anthologies or included in print magazines, short pieces can finally stand on their own. Might this be an opportunity for writers similar to single music tracks and the iPod?

I read a book containing four novellas by four different authors last week. It was a $15 paperback. With a typical 10% royalty, each author would receive a mere 38 cents from the sale of each book. What if each novella was offered at 99 cents on a site like Scribd? Too low? Well even at this price, the author would receive 54 cents, almost 50% more than book royalties. 99 cents is probably a good price for a short story.

A novella ought to be worth a bit more, say $1.59. An author would receive $1.02 from Scribd, nearly three times what he or she would receive in book royalties for the same novella. A best selling author who receives the highest print royalties would get about $4.19 on the sale of a $27.95 hardcover book. A book of four novellas would net the best selling author $1.05 for each novella. Hmmm — I like this math.

Readers benefit as well. I’ve purchased short stories and novellas from fictionwise to read on my palm. You can tell that was a while back. I never minded paying a dollar or two for a good read. E-Books open a new world of writing, publishing and reading not possible in the world of printed books.

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Publishers justify the high cost of E-books and rub their hands in glee at E-book complexity. I ran across these two articles yesterday:  Why e-books aren’t cheaper (C-Net news May 27, 2009) and Ebook complexity: good news for publishers (The Idea Logical Blog June 3, 2009).  I don’t think either one of these guys “gets it.” What were they thinking?


The first article is a lengthy justification for the high cost of E-books. Gordon Haff uses pre-production, printing, marketing (including  book tour, NYT Book Review ad, printing and shipping galleys to journalists), the wholesaler, and finally author royalties to justify the high costs of E-books.

He seems to think the costs of getting an E-book into the hands of readers would have the same costs that are typical of printed books. He uses a $4.19 royalty paid on a $27.95 hardcover to a best selling author as an example. Huh?

Publishers operate on the star system. They pick and choose books based on potential hits. The $4.19 is a 15% royalty paid to a best selling popular author. How about the rest of us? The average book published in the US sells a meager 500 copies. Hardly best seller status. Unknown authors are lucky to get 5-10% royalties. How palatable is the prospect of a couple dollars per book sold when you might sell 500?

Mike Shatzkin ends his article, Ebook complexity: good news for publishers, with this sentence: “If publishers (and the consultants they depend on) are getting a headache trying to keep all the new stuff straight, imagine how bewildering it is to the wannabe self-published author!”

I’m not confused,  I’m not bewildered and I don’t like being patronized. Amazon, B&N and all the other online book sellers are jumping in with their own proprietary ereaders and ebook formats. I think they are the ones who are confused. Wait until netbooks equipped with e-ink technology hit the streets. I like pdf files myself and readers don’t need the aggravation of copy protection either.

Then again, they are doing this for the same reason publishers go for the big hit bestseller books — Profits! They all want to corner the market for their own benefit. Somehow I don’t think they have the best interests of either the writers or the readers in mind.

How about the people who provide the content for the the books they sell? How about readers who are expected to pay through the nose for electronic books that have far lower production and distribution costs?

The only people who need the publishers and the copy protected E-books are the best selling authors. Do you think the average author will be going on book tours, be featured in the NY Times book reviews?

Clearly, these guys don’t understand the potential of the Internet for the average writer. It’s not difficult to publish a professionally formatted E-book yourself. Stay tuned for my book on this subject. The time has come for authors to take matters into their own hands.

Publishers wouldn’t have anything to publish without our writing. Amazon and B&N don’t write their own books — we do. Why should we stand at the back of the line, grateful for (if we’re lucky) 10% royalties? The publishing world is upside down. E-books are our opportunity as writers to finally get our due.

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Tacoma Narrows Bridge Falling

E-book pricing looks like it’s in free fall. Amazon started it when they introduced their Kindle ereader. Now, in this July 2nd article, Barnes & Noble Follows the Leader (Amazon) With $9.95 E-book Pricing.

And it’s about time. It’s always bothered me that E-books have been nearly as expensive as “real” books. I wonder who has been taking the huge cost savings to the bank? Writers? I doubt it. The only difference in the publishing model has been the elimination of the production and distribution costs.

In this month’s cover story, Amazon Taps it’s inner apple, FastCompany tells an interesting tale and speculates about the future of books and publishing.

Who do you think will get soaked? I think it will be the traditional publishers. After all, in an electronic world where we don’t need their presses and distribution, why do we need publishers at all?

Why do we need dedicated ereader devices? Can you imagine having to buy special glasses from the publisher to read one of their books? Buy a Kindle from Amazon, a B&N reader from Barnes & Noble and who else wants to sell me their reader and proprietary book format.

No thanks. I saw an interesting online video that has me convinced. A netbook costs less than a Kindle, is a real computer and can read pdf files. The video showed a guy turning the netbook on it’s side. Makes a perfect ereading device.

Bye-bye Kindle, E-reader Screens Coming for Netbooks — PCWorld, May 29, 2009. I can hardly wait for these guys to hit the stores. I want one. Then again, maybe Apple is ready to launch their iBook? This is exciting.

Inexpensive ereaders and self-published pdf E-books have my interest. You could self-publish an E-book for five bucks and walk away with more than double the royalties from a typical $20 book sale. I’m in.

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Not even close. No writer can earn a living out of the ad click tip jar. Associated Content (A/C) calls their payout to writers performance pay while Helium uses the term ad revenue share and bills itself as a co-op. A/C tells you up front that you’ll be paid $1.50 to $2.00 per 1,000 page views while Helium keeps their payment model a secret. Helium only tells you that they share ad revenue with “…active members based on their level of activity and value.” Be careful. If you “fail to participate” and don’t provide the free labor needed to fuel the Helium rating engine, you earn zero.

pennyIn plain English, using A/C’s highest performance pay rate
, each page view earns you two tenths of a penny. How many writers would contribute their work to a content aggregator if they understood up front that they would be paid so little each time a visitor views one of their articles? Sure you can earn $20 but you must “sell” your material to 10,000 people first.

To be fair, A/C pays up front for exclusive publishing rights
and somewhat less for non-exclusive rights. Helium pays anywhere from fifty cents to two dollars and fifty cents up front depending on your writing star status. Helium also runs contests with cash prizes and awards other party favors like badges.

No matter how they present themselves, content aggregators are online publishers.
Their main source of revenue, like their print counterparts, comes from advertising. They may not be making a profit now, but the only reason they are in business is to do just that. The real question is will they ever turn a profit and how much of that profit will be shared with the writers who provide all their content?

Online advertising is big business for Google. They earn billions. The sites hosting online ads, and this includes the content aggregators like A/C and Helium earn far less. Helium’s site looks more like the yellow pages with all the ads. And now they’re pushing advertising to the limit with keyword ad links embedded in published articles. The signal to noise ratio of too many ads threatens to drown us out.

Writers depended on publishers when the publishers controlled the printing presses and means of distribution. Publishers have always handed writers the short end of the stick and online content aggregators have taken this to the extreme. But they cannot survive without the content that we as writers provide. We can publish our writing without the middlemen. But can we earn?

The Long Tail provides clues that say we can publish and be paid for our efforts. The Long Tail can free us from the tip jar. I’ll have more to say about this next time.

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