Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Peggy Richardson Interview
6/8/2010 6:43:30 AM
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The Wizard of ebooks discusses the changing face of the publishing landscape and more...
LTS: With the fast changing landscape of publishing and the growing popularity of the highly portable ebook readers, most notably of late, the introduction of Apple’s iPad, there has been a huge jump in the number of titles published as ebooks to sate a growing appetite. Today’s guest blogger is the lovely and talented Peggy Richardson. She is a self-professed Techno-geek, a reader and a writer of non-fiction. Peggy is also the founder of the Wizardofebooks.com website and she is the CEO of Humanus Publishing, Inc. based in Las Vegas, Nevada.
So, Peggy, let’s start with the personal questions. Where do you call home & when you’re not writing, blogging or teaching one of your workshops, what do you like to do?
PR: I have this crazy bipolar existence where I spend part of the year on a tiny island called Gabriola, which is near Vancouver in Canada. We built a house there about 3 years ago, right after our daughter was born. The other parts of the year I spend in Las Vegas near our business base, or in LA near my family. We bring our little girl and usually the dog along with us everywhere. I'm a reader, so when we travel, there's usually at least one suitcase with mostly books in it, along with some wacky embroidery project or other experimental art form, usually related to textiles or monoprinting. At least I'm never bored.
LTS: Can you share with our readers a little bit about your background and experience in the world of ebooks and publishing?
PR: As you said, I'm a techno-geek, and proud of it. But I didn't start there – I wanted to be a visual artist, and I was studying fine art in 1990. It turned out there wasn't much profit in that, so in the early 90's, I ended up working for a technology wholesale company, and then the provincial government, doing everything from buying RAM chips all the way to managing Y2K upgrades in the largest courthouse in the province. But this whole time, I was writing books, that is, manuals that taught people how to use Microsoft Office, the web, and various other techy subjects. Eventually, the books and learning products started to be more profitable than plugging in wires and designing networks. Since then, I've created books on all sorts of topics, and I've done eBooks almost exclusively since about 2004.
The funny thing is, the more I work with the other two Book Broads, the more I realize how distanced I am from the traditional book world. The fact that I was creating books was more or less coincidence, as I just considered them a product, like anything else. Books and eBooks were just a good way for me to use my tech skills to create something I knew I could sell. I've never been traditionally published, and I didn't call myself a Writer until recently. Instead, I called myself a sort of techy marketer. I'm very grateful for this range of experience, because I think it makes me a better Editor today.
LTS: The introduction of the ebook has resulted in a divide between those who embrace reading a novel from a computer or portable reader and the ones who prefer the feel of a physical book in their hands with actual pages to turn. Where do you stand and why?
PR: I'm somewhere in the middle. I love paper books as much as the next girl, but I also buy eBooks to add to my digital library. I buy fiction and non-fiction in both formats. I buy both formats on impulse, but I also buy both by plan or searching for a particular title. I can go to a bookstore and buy nothing (except a cup of tea), just because being surrounded by all those books and information gives me a feeling of security, that all in the world is good, and that all of humanities' knowledge is there for the reading. But I get the same powerful feeling when I think about the eBook library in my back pocket.
Let's face it: books are very personal things to buy. I think the mistake I see being made now is not addressing the emotional part of the purchase. It's my belief that content creators who think that you can mathematically generalize why people buy an eBook over a paper book are going to be proven wrong, no matter what their predictions may be, because everyone's reasons are different, and they can't be categorized.
The only concrete reasons that I know that I would choose one over the other are storage (my last house move proved that I own about 1200 pounds of books), and accessibility. Because I live on a tiny island, digital purchases account for a large part of my book purchases when I'm at home, because there's a 20-minute ferry between me and a range of bookstores. But when I'm in the US or any large city, I will actively seek out every independent bookstore and make pilgrimages to each of them. Once there, I can't leave without buying something.
Seth Godin said it best: “The book is a souvenir.” This means that people need to be emotionally motivated to buy the paper book over digital, meaning that it has to offer something else like prestige, novelty, special features, or that the book has been treated like a piece of art.
And besides, it's still about the content. Sometimes it's easy to get excited about the gadgets, but if the content stinks, what's the point? Successful Authors offer a range of possibilities to their Readers, and measure success over a period of time.
LTS: Do you have any estimates as to the number of ebooks being published each year in comparison to those print titles being published by traditional publishing houses?
PR: This article on Business Week (http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-02-16/amazon-e-book-market-share-to-fall-as-industry-grows-update1-.html ) claims that the market for eBooks is tripling each year, and I'd bet that's pretty close to accurate, judging by the number of requests I see in my business.
However, this doesn't take into account differences between fiction and non-fiction, nor does it take into account the destruction numbers. When printed books are returned from stores as unsold, often they are destroyed and recycled. (I try not to think too hard about that, or it will break my heart.) So any numbers that we get from production, rather than actual sales, are going to be deceptive. It's also very tough to estimate the number of independently-published eBooks and paper books that hit the market, because often there's no centralized distribution for those, and self-published Authors often don't tell their sales numbers.
So if you want a good guess, let's use Amazon.com's ranking and sales numbers for Stieg Larssons's The Girl Who Played With Fire as a comparison: (These numbers are as of June 1st, 2010.)
− Hardcover: #169 in books (since release in July 2009 when it was #1)
− Paperback: #4 in books
− Kindle Edition: #4 in books overall, not just the Kindle store
This suggests that the news reports we've heard about eBooks taking up roughly 50% of the market are accurate. However, this example is only for one fiction book, and therefore it's highly subjective.
LTS: Do you anticipate the growing popularity of the ebooks will eventually make the brick & mortar bookstore a thing of the past?
PR: Never. Rather, I see brick and mortar bookstores becoming highly specialized, not just for special topical areas, but also for things like graphic novels, comic books, and other genres that used to be more cult-like, but that are now becoming more mainstream. Don't underestimate the social aspect of book-reading becoming part of the distribution model for eBooks, such as some vendors only offering special-edition eBooks on special hardware that can be bought in a store, or spaces and events for eBook reading groups to meet and purchase other products and services, like the coffee-house model. I've even seen a great business model of a mobile real-world book store that only appears at trade shows, conventions, and special events. Most conventions offer a “book booth” that sells books written by the speakers at the event, so that they can sit at a table on the concourse and sign autographs. There will always be a new incarnation, and small stores may have the advantage, as they can turn on a dime when necessary.
LTS: What do you feel is the greatest impact ebooks have had on the traditional publishing industry so far? Any predictions for the future of publishing?
PR: The greatest impact of eBooks on the market has perhaps been to more closely align retailers with publishers, especially small and independent publishers. Now, all of us need to play by similar rules, rather than just big publishers dominating the market. Clever independents will invest in their business to improve the quality of their content and marketing, knowing who they're up against. This includes quality editing and design, as well as creating real-world buzz and publicity as part of their overall business and marketing plan.
I predict that two factors are going to dominate the next phase of this impact wave, the first being localization, which is what we're already seeing in social media and podcasting. Local content creators will be able to capitalize on things like FourSquare, Meetup.com, and other social technologies to rally support and sales in their local communities. The second thing to impact us will be what I call extension, that is, that eBooks will not just manifest themselves in PDF or ePub format – the definition of a book will expand to include things like video, blogs, social media content, and also expand to include offline content that runs concurrently or in serialization with online content. It's going to be a fun ride.
LTS: Please tell the readers, especially those considering self-publishing their manuscripts into ebooks, what are some of the benefits of going this route than to seek out a traditional publisher?
PR: Let me answer that question with a bit of a skewed answer, as it might be good for each Author to first consider if an eBook format is even the best choice for their book. I realize I'm supposed to be one-sided in this discussion, but there are still cases where I believe an eBook is not the best choice for every Author, such as if the Author is not willing or able to take on the management of their digital book business themselves. Self-publishing an eBook is a different kind of business than self-publishing a paper book, because you need to be able to commit to a certain level of technological input. That doesn't mean you need to be an expert, but it does mean that you need to commit to learning. |But once you've made that commitment, the rewards can be great. eBooks can be self-distributed through your blog or website more easily than paper books, so you retain greater control over your business. If your material has frequent revisions and updates, an eBook is never carved in stone – it's a living document that you can update whenever you wish. My favourite benefit is still automation. While I've also distributed paper books in a mostly automated way, I had to rely on many other people to help me. With eBooks, that's no longer the case, and just by nature of having fewer people involved in my business, I have fewer ways that my process can fail. In that way, eBooks really do give you much more control. But if you're choosing eBooks just because you want to save money on printing, please be sure that you're accurately estimating what your true investment will be in this business, because many expenses in book creation are actually the same for both eBooks and paper books.
LTS: When should a writer consider self-publishing?
PR: Always consider it, but again, it's not for everybody. The same Author might well consider self-publishing for one of their books, but not for the next book they produce. Self-distributed books tend to reach a more tightly-niched market than traditionally-published books. If your model is to go after that huge multi-national market right away, it's tough to do that on your own unless you have an existing infrastructure to handle it, and traditional publishing might be best. However, you might have a second book that's on a specific tangent of your first book, so the second one might be a good candidate for self-publishing. Then the third book might expand on a larger topic, and it makes sense to go back to traditional publishing. Just look at the numbers and make decisions with your head, not your heart. Sounds harsh, but it's true.
LTS: Is there anything the aspiring author should be aware of in their search for a person or company that can help them with converting their manuscript into an ebook?
PR: Don't hire your relatives. That's really no joke, actually. You need objectivity. That's what you are paying for in an Editor, a Designer, and any other person in the chain. Interview a few people. If they don't tell you anything you don't like, run away. Fast. As my friend and fellow Book Broad Kim Plumley says, “Somebody has to tell the Emperor he's naked.”
LTS: Excellent advice, Peggy! Speaking of companies that can help with the ebook process, as the CEO of Humanus Publishing, Inc. what service does your company provide to the author looking to make their book available in this format?
PR: The best way I can help people is through my eBook classes. I have a few clients that I take on to work with more personally, but I'm a huge believer in enabling Authors to manage their projects themselves. It's powerful when someone leaves my class and they already have a book on their website, that is making them money right away. I love Editing and I'm often hired to do that, and I have a small team of Editors that work with me regularly. But my greatest joy is seeing someone excited that they did it themselves. It's the same feeling I still get all the time myself.
LTS: With the growing popularity of ebook readers and the race to improve them to appeal to a market always waiting for the next big thing, what do you predict will be cool features in the next generation of ebook readers? Or perhaps, what are the things you’d like to see that might convince those who have snubbed ebook readers before to put down the printed book to consider a Kindle or iPad?
PR: OK, I'll say something not very popular here: I don't like eBook readers. I have a rule about stuff that I buy, because basically, I'm really really cheap. (Or perhaps let's say that I'm practical.) The rule is: if I buy a tool or gadget or anything, it has to be able to do three things. For example, my vacuum has to be able to detach the powerhead and do upholstery as well as have a little attachment for the stairs. You know what I mean? So if an eBook reader doesn't really do much beyond let you read a book, I just can't see it having a future. Sure, the Kindle lets you read other formats like PDF, and you can listen to music, but can't most of us do that on a cell phone these days? This is why I've been holding out for an iPad – it does a heck of a lot more than hold eBooks, and frankly, it's way sexier too.
LTS: You’re a busy woman, regularly called upon to provide workshops to demystify the whole world of ebook publication. Where can we next catch one of your workshops?
PR: I've got three more events happening and then I'm taking the summer off. The next one is my eBook Jumpstart workshop in Nanaimo on June 12th. The following weekend, I'm offering the same eBook Jumpstart class in Langley, in the Fraser Valley on June 19th. Then on June 26th, I'm co-hosting the Nanaimo Business Blender which is designed for those who are using eMarketing for books and other small businesses. Kim Plumley will be talking about publicity, Angela Crocker will be talking about social media in marketing, and George Plumley will be giving a three-hour workshop on blogging with WordPress, the world's most popular online content management system. This is going to be pretty high-voltage, as Kim, Angela and myself will be doing 15-minute one-on-one sessions with people, just focusing on stuff for their businesses. George is working on his second book for Wiley Press about WordPress and blogging, and he's very well-known in blogging and WordPress circles, so we're lucky to have him here in Nanaimo.
You can register for all of these workshops at: http://www.wizardofebooks.com/speaking/
LTS: Thank you so much for taking the time to enlighten us, Peggy! You’ve given us a lot to think about. For those wishing to find out more about you and Humanus Publishing, Inc. where should they go?
PR: I'm always blogging about crazy stuff at http://www.wizardofebooks.com/, Tweeting at http://twitter.com/peggyrichardson, and I'm on FaceBook at http://www.facebook.com/ohthatpeggyrichardson. Beware: there are plenty of comments about chocolate and shoes!
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