Jo Walton (papersky) wrote,

Some actual information about e-books

Farthing was released as a free e-book to promote Tor.com. It did indeed promote Tor.com, which is a successful site and pays me to read books, what more could anybody want? I'm not at all sorry I agreed to do it.

But people say (loudly and frequently) that giving away free e-books of the first in a series drives sales of the rest of the series. This turns out not to be the case. As of my November royalty statement, sales of Farthing are almost twice as high as sales of Ha'Penny. Indeed, sales of Ha'Penny in paperback were sufficiently low that Tor haven't wanted to risk a paperback of Half a Crown in case it discourages bookstore chain computers from ordering Among Others. So, free ebook, way of the future, great way for writers to promote themselves and their books -- not so much. And I'm a reasonably established award-winning author, and it was given away with huge fuss by a publisher, not by somebody nobody ever heard of on their own web site. I'm not saying people can't make this work, I'm just saying don't count on it working. This is a case where it clearly didn't work.

Also, my total royalties from ebooks ever are... $2.50. Which suggests that while they may be the way of the future, they're not yet the way of the present, except for the tiny minority who are mad keen on them. That minority are online (well, duh!) and kind of vocal, so one hears a lot from them in debate. But they're clearly not really buying a lot of e-books, or at least not mine.

After Farthing was released free (and without DRM), lots of these ebook enthusiasts emailed me wanting the other books free too. Um, yeah, right. Some of these people yelled at me because the other books in the series didn't yet have e-editions. They called real books "dead trees". This did not generally endear them to me, even when they said they would pay for e-editions.

However, one personal friend of mine who travels a lot promised to buy them as soon as there were Kindle editions but wanted to read them now, and I sent him ascii text files. (Ascii text is what I have. I write in Protext, remember.) I just asked him how ugly reading this was on the Kindle compared to reading the properly formatted Kindle version of Farthing Tor put out, and he said they were indeed horrible, there was no comparison. Furthermore, I also gave him a copy of Lifelode which for complicated reasons was in ODT (Open Office) format. That, he says, won't display paragraphs properly and he hasn't been able to read it. Proper formatting: people want it, it doesn't just happen, it takes time to get right and you have to pay somebody to do it.

My opinion continues to be that I don't understand what's happening and eventually everything will look very different. I'm posting this because it's not handwaving or airy speculation, it's actual data, of which there seems to be something of a shortage.
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