September Theme: Publishing Changes--The Shift From Print to E-Readers: Some Thoughts About its Effects on Authors

Goddess Girls co-author Joan Holub and I have been in the children’s writing biz for over twenty years now, but it’s only been in the last year that we’ve seen sales of the e-book versions of  our books start to take off.  In fact, the e-sales of the first book in our Goddess Girls series, Athena the Brain, went from under a hundred sales in the first six months to around five thousand in the next six months—a pretty healthy increase.

We’ve probably all heard the news that this year—for the first time ever— reports that their e-book sales are now outselling paperbacks (though paperback sales have been continuing to grow too—at least online.) More and more Americans are buying e-readers, it seems. An August 2010 poll by Harris Interactive revealed that 8 percent of Americans were using e-readers and about 12 percent planned to do so in the next six months [source: Harris Interactive]. In 2011, sales of e-readers are expected to reach more than 20 million [source: IMS Research]. 

So how does the growing popularity of e-books and e-readers effect authors? On the bright side, it’s another avenue for sales. So far publishers have been pricing e-books at about the same price as paperbacks. Since the royalty rate for a paperback is typically 6%, but the royalty rate for an e-book is 25%, authors earn much more for e-sales than for paperback sales. (Which is only fair since there are no real production costs with e-books.)

Yet it remains to be seen what will happen if/when sales of traditional books decline, to be replaced by e-sales. Though most articles I’ve read say it's unlikely that traditional books will ever become completely obsolete, they’re obviously going to be effected over the long run. And this brings up an interesting dilemma: In my experience advances are calculated on print sales, not e-sales. That’s a model I think authors and agents need to be concerned about, otherwise advances will shrink as anticipated print sales decrease. Sales are sales, whether print or e-book, so as e-revenues increase it seems to me that publishers should begin to base advances on anticipated print sales plus e-sales.

I’m hoping that this is an issue SCBWI and other writers’ organizations will begin to address. SCBWI Western Washington recently put on a seminar for published authors that focused on e-books, so the interest in e-book issues is definitely out there, though most of this interest seems to be focused on e-book self-publication at the moment.
For those of you with further interest in the topic of e-books, I found this info on SCBWI-WWAs Chinook Update:

The Library Journal/School Library Journal will present the second annual Virtual Summit on Ebooks: The New Normal. It's a one-day virtual conference on ebooks and their role in the future of libraries. The virtual conference will be Wednesday October 12, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (EDT). Author M.T. Anderson will be the keynote speaker at this virtual summit. You can find more information and register here.

--Suzanne Williams


  1. So interested in this series! Thanks for starting it. I found you via Dia Calhoun's repost on Readergirlz. I'm starting an online writing workshop this month on my blog and plan on posting "Helpful links" for writers. I have a feeling I'll be linking back to a lot of your articles in this series, so thanks!

  2. Hi Sarah, So glad you've found something useful in my ramblings. :-) I see Dia now and again at local SCBWI functions. We both live in the Seattle area.

    Best, Suzanne


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