Sunday, October 5, 2014

Digital Versus Paper

Ebooks are now all the rage.  From Hugh Howey to JA Konrath, those making it big in the indie world are hitting their strides by offering digital products.  In fact, it seems that the model for indie writers is to leap in big with ebooks and hold off on paper until established.  I'm not sure this is the way to go.

To be sure, I'm not suggesting that a new writer put the money required into printing off 10,000 copies of his or her first book in paper and storing them in a garage.  That would obviously be wasteful and optimistic in the extreme.  On the other hand, I personally prefer the feel of a paper book in my hands.  I read more than my house will store, so I save getting paper books for those I'm really looking forward to, but that doesn't mean I eschew them altogether.

Digitial is easy, or at least easier, to break into.  There are a few programs and services out there that will help you format your work for a digital platform, and Amazon KDP Select makes getting your work to readers in ebook form almost no hassle.  It really is about as simple as uploading your work and, BAM, you've got a book.

Paper can be challenging to find a distribution outlet.  Not only will none of the major chains put your work in their stores if you're a newbie on the independent scene, most independent bookstores won't stock your stuff either without a very one-sided contract.  In other words, what good does it do to have a paper copy if you have no way to get it into the hands of your audience?

I believe the keys are balance and expectation management.  As writers and business-people, we need to have multiple outlets for readers to both find and enjoy our work.  Some folks won't go near an e-reader, no matter how convenient.  We also need to remember that we're building an audience rather than tapping into one that already exists.  If you decide to distribute paper books, start by selling to those you know and giving away a few.  Encourage those folks to share the copy with their friends.  Start building a buzz - assuming you have talent - that makes people start to ask when your next novel is coming out.  Ask that they request it from their local bookstore so that merchants will know that this is serious and they might make some money.

At the same time, hit the digital market hard.  More and more people are turning to e-readers, and your presence in this market is vital.  Paper won't ever go away, but it might be supplanted on top by ebooks.  In my opinion, based on analysis I've done regarding sales, I think a good ratio to strive for is 5-1:  five digital sales for every paper sale.  Some say the ratio should be even more in favor of ebooks, but I think 5-1 allows for folks to find your work on the platform they enjoy and keeps you grounded in going after the right target audience.

Don't get too caught up in one way or the other.  Be ready to shift your focus should sales trend in a specific direction, but play around with the numbers and distribution to see what works best for your own vision.  After all, it's about getting your stories into the hands of readers that will pay for them.

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