Lifting The Volkswagen by C.J. West
Long ago I taught golf lessons. One of the problems students always had was trying to lift the ball. Since the ball rested on the ground, students who tried to hit “up” on the ball invariably wound up hacking a hunk of turf and sending the ball weakly ahead—sometimes they failed to move it at all.
I told them to imagine they wanted to carry their bride over the threshold. (Yes, my students were 99% male). Hitting behind the ball was like putting your bride in a Volkswagen before trying to pick her up. The key to hitting a golf ball a long distance is to make pure contact between the club and the ball. Ditch the Volkswagen in the middle.
I was thinking this week about my efforts publishing books in print and I was reminded of this story. As an indie who created print books, I put a lot of turf between me and my readers. Every bit of turf added cost to the equation and made it harder for me to sell books. Each book required paper, ink, glue, equipment and labor resulting in a cost of about $5 per book. The books needed to be stored and then distributed to bookstores, which added another $4. Bookstores wanted another $6. To sell a book for $15, which is already more than my competition, I had to cut into the bookstores’ margin or else take nothing for myself.
E-books changed this dramatically. Per book cost for creation, delivery, and sale of an Amazon e-book is 30%. That is less than the 40% the bookstores required to sell my print books. That didn’t mean the stores would stock the books and of course they didn’t print and distribute them. It just meant the store would sell them if someone came to the counter and asked them to special order. Readers had to practically beg a store to get one of my books. With e-book distribution I finally feel like I’ve gotten the Volkswagen out from between me and my readers.
It is December 1, 2010 as I’m writing this and this year lots of indie writers are very excited. There has been a sharp upswing in e-reader adoption and this Christmas is likely to mark a turning point for e-books. As e-books swing from a tiny fraction of the market to a significant market segment, many more indies like me will be able to make a living as writers.
The folks who make paper, print books, and work in bookstores can keep working with Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling, but 2011 holds tremendous promise for thousands of unknowns. I can’t wait to see how many Kindles Santa brings this year.
Thank you C.J. for the great guest post - I received my Kindle earlier this year and adore it. I still love real books as well, but I have gotten to know a lot of great new authors through ebooks and love that. It's all wonderful for us readers - more books, more authors, means no boredom ever!