Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Estributors

A few years ago, two of the major bookstore chains went into the publishing business, and began producing their own books, both classic titles and new content.

It made complete sense. Why split money with publishers when you can publish it yourself and make a larger profit?

Yet, none of them ever took the next logical steps--signing a big-name author to an exclusive publishing deal. Or reprinting backlist titles that continue to sell on the used book circuit.

Seems like a missed opportunity. But then, they're retailers first and foremost, and expanding into publishing carries a lot of costs and risks.

Now, in the days of ebooks, we have the Kindle, the Sony Reader, the iPhone, and the Barnes and Noble nook.

The savvy, ewise author knows how to get his books on these devices. Mine already are, or soon will be. Kindle in particular makes it very easy to do, and Sony is stepping up as well. I'll be on iTunes soon thanks to IndiaNIC, and B&N thanks to Smashwords.com.

But Amazon, Sony, Apple, and B&N are missing out on a way to make a lot more money.

Publishers get rich by having exclusive content. Only one publisher has Stephenie Meyer. The others do not.

And yet Amazon, Sony, Apple, and B&N all carry Stephenie Meyer on their sites, for their ereaders. They're sharing the pie.

Sharing is not the main problem. All bookstores share. But in the case of Amazon, Sony, and B&N, they LOSE money on each book sold. Print publishers, in an effort to stave off the inevitable, charge these companies several dollars more for the ebook than the companies are selling them for.

The result? Every time Twilight sells, the etailer loses money. In fact, a good portion of the ebooks sold lose money for the etailer.

If the etailors got wise, they'd try to make deals with authors directly. But they won't, or can't. Because there is a cost and risk associated with publishing ebooks, the same as there is with publishing print books.

This is a shame. I'd love to sign an exclusive ebook contract, and have the etailer promote it. Sell it at a low price, and we'd both make a nice bit of change.

Maybe this will happen in the future. In the meantime, it seems like a smart person, or company, could capitalize on the current situation.

Let's call these people estributors.

In the book world, a distributor such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Partners, or Anderson, is the middleman between the publisher and the retailer. They warehouse the books from the publisher, and fufill orders to the bookstores and bookselling outlets.

What the ebook world needs is a middleman who can facilitate sales between Luddite authors with backlists but no tech savvy, and etailers selling ebooks.

An estributor could contact NAME authors (not self-pubbed newbies) for shelf novels and out of print backlists, arrange for cover art, format for Sony, nook, Kindle, and iTunes, and take a small percentage, say 10%, of the profits for a set amount of time.

The etailers would be making a profit from estributors, rather than hemorrhaging money like they're doing right now. Ebook prices stay low, which the customers want. And authors can concentrate on writing rather than all the tech stuff.

There are millions of out of print books still under copyright but not under contract. Estributors could position themselves to rival the sales of large publishers, if they get in while they can.