Having got Flag Fen: a concise Archæoguide successfully published for Kindle (see Part 1) I wanted to get it published to other platforms as an epub file (and other formats). Not least, I wouldn’t be comfortable with Amazon having a monopoly on it. I spent several evenings using a well-known search engine trying to find out what would be the best route to get the book onto iTunes and other epub sellers. The more I looked at it, the more similar the structure seemed to selling second-hand books.
Selling used books for me started on the Advanced Book Exchange. It was a friendly affair and there was little attempt by ABE to get between the seller and buyer, and ABE let the seller have most of the sale price. There were other websites which accounted for a small percentage of sales, but ABE was the main player. Things have changed somewhat, commission and card-handling fees are now hefty, and my second-hand book sales are now probably c.75% through Amazon, 23% through Abebooks (as it is now called, and owned by Amazon), with the other 2% or so through smaller sites like Biblio, AntiQbook, and my own website; there are and have been a plethora of ‘others’ which I have long since given up on.
From what I could gather by reading around, the majority of ebook sales are through Amazon, with a smaller number of iTunes sales, and a very few through Kobo, Nook, plus a plethora of ‘others’ which return none. I therefore decided to concentrate initially on the three sites Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble, and not worry too much about the others. How to get the book into epub format? I discovered it’s not actually that hard to produce an epub file. Use the right software and load it with a properly formatted Word document and an epub file pops out the other end. I’m not sure why paying one of the many services available to convert your file is so expensive.
From my research it became apparent that I would probably use an aggregator. Apart from anything else, not using an aggregator can make it necessary to have a US bank account, and to be VAT registered. For those who don’t know, an aggregator is like a distributor, a company that, for a percentage or your royalties, will make your book available through a number of sites; they can also turn your document into an epub file for you.
The old boy of aggregators appears to be Smashwords, and they distribute to a long list. A newer company is Draft2Digital, who were then only distributing to iTunes, Kobo and Nook, as well as making the book available to download on their own website in various formats. For a number of reasons I decided to try D2D first.
Registering with them was straightforward, I supplied them with my EIN (see Part 1) and I already had the book as a Word file which I duly uploaded.
Pricing is an odd question. How much is an ebook worth? As a dyed-in-the-wool physical book junkie my gut feeling is ‘not a lot’, it’s too ephemeral. But the author has still put a lot of work into it, and after all, it’s the intellectual property that’s important, regardless of how it’s delivered. But it’s a balancing act – price it too high and sales will be low, price it too low and there’s hardly any royalties. Pricing on some sites is based on a US dollar price, so the UK (GBP) price can annoyingly appear as an odd amount as the exchange rate fluctuates.
Once the formalities are done and the ‘publish’ button clicked on, nothing happens for quite a while. The book is submitted to the relevant platforms and eventually gets accepted, and is therefore ‘published’.
And do the orders come rushing in from anywhere? Not without some publicity, and how to do that? Social media is the most obvious means, and doing some tweeting from Boudicca Books‘ account brought in the odd order.
Next the book went onto a number of other platforms (including library distribution) through Smashwords, where you can also buy the download in various formats. Getting the book into a suitable format for them is more difficult – they are very prescriptive about what their ‘meat grinder’ (what they call their conversion software) will and won’t accept, and it took about two hours to reformat the document. There is a lengthy ‘style guide’ which I followed assiduously – even so, the first upload failed; but it was one very minor problem which I corrected and then it was accepted without a problem. It took several weeks for the book to work through the system and become available (it still doesn’t seem to be on some sites yet, including W H Smith and Waterstones, which should be supplied by Kobo), and sales are now much the same as on other sites – i.e. very low.
I’ve listed the book in the bibliography on Francis’s ‘Author Central’ page at Amazon, which may produce a few sales – Amazon is the only site where there are regular sales.
The next part of the project, which is still in its early stages, is to work with the team at the Flag Fen visitor attraction to enable their visitors to buy the ebook on-site. Not as straightforward as a real book, but it appears to be theoretically feasible. I’ve left the ball in their court at the moment, but I can see that there may be a number of obstacles to overcome; if it does get sorted out it I fear it will be by the autumn when they are ready to close for the winter.
So, has it been worth it? It’s too early to tell, even though it’s been over three months since the Kindle version has been available, much less for the epub – in fact, some of the channels at Smashwords are still awaiting distribution, and some of those that it has distributed to are yet to make the book available. So, perhaps it will be next year before sales speed up. The long timescale so far is why it’s taken a while for this second part of the blog post to appear, I’ve been waiting for things to happen.
One thing I do know: yet another similarity between second-hand bookselling and ebook publishing is that the monetary return on time invested is risibly small.
This post was originally published on the Ibooknet blog.