What stands digital publishing apart?
After working for several years as a literary agent for Christine Green, Natalie Butlin made the choice to resign when she felt that traditional firms were ignoring the inevitable impact of digital publishing. She is now a Publishing Executive at the digital publishing company, Bookouture.
Amazon, the current largest seller of e-books, has played a massive role in evolving the industry. Butlin said: “Amazon is very good for authors, especially new authors, because they don’t care if your last book didn’t sell, they don’t care if you’re a new author. What they are all about is an algorithm that calculates: ‘is this page converting well?’ If it does, they’ll push it to more people. It’s really hard to get visibility in the traditional publishing world. For a debut author that can be a really powerful thing.”
Companies like Bookouture have adopted a hands-on approach to gaining success for their books. “In traditional publishing, if a book doesn’t do well, it’s very often blamed on the author. You never buy a book unless you believe in it. That’s what I love about digital: we can give a book many, many chances.”
What this means, in reality, is that once a book goes up for pre-order, the data influx is immediate. If customers aren’t biting, the company can make changes without drastically impacting profit. “If necessary, you can repackage the book entirely. We’ve had books where we’ve completely rewritten the blurb and just that alone has lead from it doing nothing to hitting the top positions in the charts and selling hundreds of thousands of copies,” commented Butlin. The packaging plays as big a role as the writing.
Thanks to the Author Earnings report, we can compare the writer royalties from traditional and self-published sales. Most authors are fearful of self-publishing because of the significant chance of lost brick and mortar gross sales—this refers to all the potential book sales lost in stores because it has proved near impossible for authors to achieve decent bookstore penetration without a publisher.
However, in digital self-publishing, roughly 70 percent of the revenue goes to the author. On average, this alone is more than traditional publishing’s E-book and print revenue combined. Authors don’t have to tackle the headache of print sales by themselves and can blossom on a platform built to suit the customer market. Butlin continued: “You can’t really fight it. If the books are available you have to work with it or be left behind."
According to Butlin, another major producer of publishing stats—The Bookseller—fails to include any book priced at £1.99 or below. “It’s ignoring how basically all successful digital publishers are pricing their books, and just pretending that whole section of the market doesn’t exist.”
'Fifty Shades of Grey' is leading the charge
The books that publishers are willing to invest in rarely fall in line with the novels that populate English Literature degrees. High quality writing is defined differently, fuelled by the drive for profit and raising the author’s profile. If a book is successful, the odds are that any sequels will penetrate the market.
Specifically, at Bookouture, Butlin said: “We would consider it high quality writing because it achieved all the things our readers were looking for. We’re a much more commercially focused publishing company and we’re looking to go after the mass market.” Ulysses might be your lecturer’s favourite read, but in 2018 it’s not going to clear the shelves. However, not long ago, something else did.
In 2012, The Telegraph released an article titled: ’50 Shades of Grey is best-selling book of all time.’ The article discloses that an incredible 5.3 million copies had been sold in Britain at that time.
“It draws in people who don’t normally buy books and that’s a tough thing to do. You’re not going to get that with a literary book, usually,” said Butlin. Sorry, Joyce. “I think one of the key differences between digital, or digital the way we do it, and traditional publishing is that we don’t have to sell to retailers, we only have to sell to readers. There’s no one else deciding if our books get to be seen by the public.”
When your public is the entire Internet, with such successful platforms as Amazon already established, it’s no wonder that Butlin praises digital publishing for being more organic. The traditional dot-to-dot process required to see your book on store shelves has partially dissolved in meritocracy-based systems like Amazon. There’s no sales pitch to secure a big marketing campaign to ensure successful sales. Whilst sites like Amazon do their best to promote products that are selling, they require customer data to know which products to encourage, so the system remains much more public-oriented.
The Package Deal
For a book to sell in digital markets, it needs to be packaged correctly. The package is comprised of the cover, title, blurb, and later the reviews. Three of those four things can be controlled by the publishers.
Butlin’s first publishing project at Bookouture was The Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard. “It was such a huge learning experience for me. I learned that you want the most commercial package; you don’t need something that completely reflects the content. By the end of the pre-order period, we had 7500 pre-orders and it was fascinating that people were buying this book based on the blurb, cover, and title alone. 7500 people were willing to buy this book, having absolutely no idea what was in it apart from what we’d packaged it as.” It’s fair to say digital publishing is working for readers and authors alike.