Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Big Screen - Little Screen v. Paperback - E-Book: A Comparison

Let us compare and contrast how the movie industry coped with the advent of home theater, and how that same logic might apply to traditional paperback publishing, and the forthcoming e-book publishing wave.

It's all about revenue
Let me say it again: REVENUE. That's cashflow into a company's coffers. For a movie studio, they initiate that cashflow by printing out reels of their movies, and shipping said reels to local movie theaters around the world. Money exchanges hands.

Book publishers initiate revenue the same way. They print books, and ship them to retailers all over the world. Again, money exchanges hands.

In this way, the revenue stream is brought forward in time, well in advance of the first movie ticket or book purchase. Note that a large amount of cash flowed between companies, without one customer purchase.

This is the inventory model on which capitalism is founded, folks. This is how our global economy works.

It's all about distribution
Movie studios don't distribute movies -- theaters do. Each theater licenses and presents the titles they think will be popular, locally, and pitch them in local advertising venues such as billboards, radio stations, and television ads.

Likewise with printed books sent to local bookstores and national chains. They know their customers, and can react quickly to local mood swings.

The point is this: Movie studios and publishers do not interact directly with the customer! They send their product to local distributors who do this for them.

Again, this is how our economy is designed.

It's all about going big first
Movies first go to the big screen. That's where they generate up-front revenue (from the inventory sales), and gain the most market exposure. They also enjoy rich ticket sales from the licensing. A family of four might spend $45 to see a theater movie, while if they wait, an entire houseful of guests can watch the same movie for $1 out of Redbox.

Books are no different. They go first to hardback. Hardbacks display well on the shelves, are more likely to be placed cover-up and cover-forward, and are often accompanied by additional marketing material such as posters, billboards, and book signings. They also have a higher profit margin for the publisher.

Then, after the initial market response is gauged, they move onto paperback, with a wider and more voluminous distribution. There isn't a good correlation to movies here.

This is where the money is truly made. The distributors enjoy their cut, while the publishing houses and studios enjoy theirs.

Again and again, our economy at work.

Now we get to the cheap stuff
After the movie release, after the hardback-paperback release, we move onto the next phase of distribution.

For movies, it is the DVD sales. There isn't a literary correlation to this. The DVDs generate up-front revenue, because they are still based on the inventory model of distribution, but they are not a significant source of revenue.

After that, movies go to On-Demand, followed later by Netflix. With each step down, there is a decrease in revenue, less up-front profit, and the studio becomes less engaged with generating sales.

For books, after paperback, we are seeing the e-books come up. It used to be there was nothing left after paperbacks.

Now we get to the problem of e-books!
And here's the problem: The publisher has no distributor for the e-books. There is no up-front revenue for the publisher. Nobody buys the rights (e.g. No Cable company will license them for On-Demand).

Nobody buys 10,000 copies to stock their shelves.

Nobody handles local marketing, or keeps track of the accounting for each individual sell.

For an e-book, the publisher is directly responsible for not only distributing the books via electronic media, but must now WAIT for the revenue to be generated by each individual sell, and account for each sell. Don't discount the accounting effort it takes when you adjust your business model from hundreds of huge sells per month, to hundreds of thousands of tiny sells per month.

This is not how our economy works. Producers and manufacturers, such as publishers, cannot wait for each individual sell. They cannot manage each sells, or the marketing, or absorb the cost that is traditionally split among thousands of distribution centers. Their model simply is not the same as the distributor. They rely on that up-front capital provided by inventory distribution, and cannot wait a year to be paid for their book sales.

There's the crux, folks.

So what about e-books?
Until we see e-book distributors pop up, which I am sure they will, same as Redbox and Netflix and On-Demand popped up for movie studios, we will continue to see publishers place little if any emphasis on their e-book sales. They will offer the e-book later, after the bulk of their inventory sells are depleted, but will not offer it with a great deal of zest and vigor.

There simply isn't any profit for them in it, and their model is not based on customer service. They are a manufacturer, not a distributor.

So what's the good news?
Just like the hand-held camera and Youtube have allowed independent movie makers to reach new audiences, e-books have opened a new door to readers and independently published authors. Quality will vary, but it already does, even in the print market.

For the print market, we'll see them focus more on non-fiction, educational, and children's books. These have not yet translated well to the e-book market. We'll also see higher-quality print books, since they can now shunt low-quality books directly to e-book distribution.

Traditional publishers may even create sub-departments, where they crank out pulp e-books of moderate quality in the hopes that one or two hit big. It won't cost much to develop the book, and there are plenty of starving writers to prey on.

What's the bad news?
There still isn't a good way of marketing your e-book, other than word-of-mouth. That will be true for independents as well as large publishing houses.

Furthermore, the quality of e-books is already corrupt, as it is rife with unedited, low-quality work. Readers will be challenged to find good books, while healthy authors will face stiff competition to reach said readers. As an e-reader myself, I can say we will be a more and more finicky crowd to please.

What's in the future?
I see independent e-book distributors. I see a shift in what's available in traditional bookstores -- less fiction, more everything else. I see higher quality print, with fewer and bigger superstar authors.

Anyway, what are your thoughts? Do you believe, as I do, that big publishers and paperback distributors will align with the e-market, and find a way to stay in business? What do you see in the future?

- Eric

Friday, March 23, 2012

Positive or Negative Advice: Which is better?

Which is better, positive or the negative feedback?

I'll tell you, since I ask. It's negative feedback.

I'm talking about proper negative feedback, the sort that helps you be a better writer.

For instance, my editor tore up my run-on sentences. She tore into my weaker constructs, and forced me to be precise and clear on my scenes.

It was the first time someone had given me negative feedback. Truly. People have said they don't like my writing, or said they didn't like that story, but that's not feedback -- that's an opinion. Fine, I say, you're ugly.

When folks tell me they like my writing, it inspires me to write more, and I can tell it's a clean spot in my work.

But you know the best compliment of all? It's when a fierce critic says nothing at all.

Take my editor. Please.

It was during my final edit for Out of the Great Black Nothing (see sidebar). My editor ripped up every chapter. It was a bloodbath. If you've ever been gutted like a fish, you'll know what I mean.

Except for one chapter.

It happened to be my favorite chapter of the book.

She read it through without a mark. She said nothing about it, except she moved to the next chapter and continued working that filet knife in and out, in and out.

Anyway, I stand by my belief that negative feedback is what makes you a better writer -- properly fed back, that is.

What do you think? Is negative feedback the best way to improve? Not just for writing, but for any activity you are trying to master.

- Eric

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What About a DUAL POV?

So what do you think about this: A dual Point-of-View.

I'm experimenting on my latest piece with twins, using a "their" POV. I'm not sure how it will work, but I'm hoping that if/when I separate them, and the POV becomes his and hers, it will have a lot more impact, both on the characters and on the reader.

It will involve head-skipping between them, and maybe some omniscient POV. In fact, when I read it now, it sounds very omniscient. I want them to be symbiotic, since this is why they are so special -- they are two halves of one whole.

So long as a scene is written in a clear way, head-skipping and omni can (and do) work, even in modern stories. It's a YA-slash-Adult fiction, so I don't think I'll be judged too harshly for head-skipping or going omni.

What is your take? Have you ever experimented with a POV like this?

- Eric

Friday, March 9, 2012

Education v. Intelligence

It is my firm belief that education teaches the intelligence right out of us.

Be careful what you learn. Be careful from whom and from where you learn.

Question everything. Everything.

Remember that a "well-educated" person is only as smart as the second-year grad student who wrote the book for the professor so they could maintain their tenure.

I'm not saying you shouldn't educate yourself. It helps to share knowledge. The problem is this: two-thirds of a human is water. Water has no capacity for intelligence. So it stands to reason that two-thirds of everything you learn from your fellow water-bag is unintelligent. It's bunk.

I'm drinking Smart Water right now. I'm not learning a damned thing. I'm not sure I trust another flesh-bag of water to tell me what I need to think.

It's the sorting out of bad v. good learning that makes you intelligent, not the learning itself. Only one-third of everything you learn is valuable, statistically speaking.

Pick carefully.

And remember Edison and Einstein both abandoned traditional education. Einstein preferred to study on his own, and Edison was kicked out entirely as being too dull to learn.

- Eric