E-Books Boost Revenue

A recent Pew Research Center survey said fully one-third of American adults now own an e-reader, a trend that concerned many in the publishing world at first.

Fresh sales opportunities have morphed this initial wariness into excitement, local bibliophiles say.

"It is true, many of us in the business were concerned when e-books started to come on the scene," said Susan Bays, owner of Arbutus Press south of Traverse City. "Everyone is resistant to change and this had the potential to turn around everything we were doing. But what actually happened is it opened up a whole new avenue for reaching readers."

Arbutus Press offers editing, design and distribution services for both print and e-books. Four of the 11-year-old publisher's 50-plus titles have been named Michigan Notable Books, including the most recent honoree, Fishtown: Leland Michigan's Historic Fishery by Laurie Sommers.

Bringing an e-book to market is virtually the same as producing a traditional print book. The manuscript still needs to be edited, proofed and formatted, and cover art must be created. The main difference is e-books are formatted and sent through the e-reader channels, rather than to a printer.

Bays started dabbling in e-books last year and now has six or seven of her titles available.

"So far, we're finding that the fiction books and those without a lot of photos are working best in this format," she said. "It's been great to 'dust off' some of the older titles and get them out again. We also have some projects that are coming in now that it makes sense to only do as an e-book, such as an upcoming book about the Civil War by an author from Detroit."

Publishers and authors of e-books are given the choice of whether their books will be available to libraries. Those accepting library sales generally get 70 percent of the revenue – but potentially limit the amount of print copies they sell. Those that turn down the library option often only get paid 30 percent of the revenue.

The upside to writing and publishing e-books is the cost, which is generally half of traditional print books. The removal of the cost barrier has spiked independent publishing sales by 30-40 percent, but has opened up a new world of bad literature, said Jim Kalajian, COO of Jenkins Group in Traverse City.

"It's been an explosion of crap out there, and by that I mean just because you can publish doesn't mean you necessarily should," Kalajian said. "Anyone with a laptop and ability to open a Word doc can publish now."

Kalajian and owner Jerry Jenkins have seen it all. Their publishing firm is now 25 years old, providing marketing, ghostwriting, and custom book publishing to national and international clients.

Not that they are complaining about the explosion of sales.

"There's more product, which means there is a bigger marketplace for us," Kalajian said. "All boats are rising, because the stuff that is quality is now a higher quality, no question about that."

Jenkins echoed Kalajian's sentiments.

"There are tens of millions of e-book readers out there, meaning the growth of e-books has offered more opportunities for people to read books," he said. "It has also made the world a smaller place. If we are contacted by a publisher in Australia, they can send us files and the e-book can be uploaded quickly and efficiently – ready for readers anywhere to access."

Authors with hard copies have also been eying the e-book trend, said Jenkins, whose company began offering an e-book conversion service three years ago.

"With four to five million books in print, it will be a while before even a fraction of those are available on mobile devices," he said. "And with existing copyright laws, many will not be able to be converted to the electronic format at all."

Local readers are certainly following the national trends for e-book consumption. The Traverse Area District Library (TADL) owns around 2,000 unique e-books. In 2011, they recorded 9,069 e-book check-outs. In 2012, that number jumped to 25,500 – a 178 percent increase.

"TADL started offering e-books for download in 2010, with an explosion during the holidays in 2011," said Kristin Talaga, marketing and communications manager. "Our focus now is for patrons to learn how to use the TADL e-book collection and resources on their devices."

The e-books are just a fraction of the material available from the six community libraries in the TADL network, which includes the library on Woodmere Avenue and in East Bay, Kingsley, Fife Lake, Interlochen and Old Mission Peninsula. Only 25,500 eBooks were lent in 2012, while the physical collection had 1,222,756 check-outs.

"It's not necessarily an apples to apples comparison because the two collections are drastically different in size," Talaga said. The library has 2,000 e-books and more than 300,000 physical items in the collection including print, audio and video materials.

"There are a lot of reasons for the difference in collection size," she said. "For example, not all print books are available in e-book form, and some publishers sell only a small fraction of titles to libraries with tough restrictions and high price tags."

As more books become available in digital format, both publishers and libraries will work to help readers experience the information in the best way possible, said Talaga. Currently, all TADL locations offer access to public computers, free WiFi and a robust collection of online resources available through TADL.org.