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The Hedgewitch Queen by Lilith SaintcrowWell, this is interesting:

We’re thrilled to announce our first ebook only publication from New York Times Bestselling author Lilith Saintcrow! We’ll be publishing The Hedgewitch Queen in December 2011, and the sequel, The Bandit King, in July 2012 in both the US and the UK. The series will be available across all digital reader platforms.

There’s an adage going around the publishing industry (generally in defense of eBooks being sold for the same price as paperbacks) that the cost of producing/storing/distributing/paying middle-men (ie. bookstores)/dealing with returns is negligible for publishing companies. The real cost, of course, is in editing/copy-editing/layout/cover art/royalties/marketing, which is the real meat of the success in the hearts and minds of readers. So, despite not needing to be stored/distributed/printed/returned/etc…, eBooks often cost the same or only marginally less than paper books. Of course, most of these tasks are done for the physical books (whether there’s to be an eBook published or not), so all that’s left is proofing and layout of the eBooks. Sadly, to anyone (like me) who’s read a fair number of eBooks, it’s clear that many publishing companies put little-to-know effort into proofing/layout of their eBooks. It’s not to say that *good* eBooks are cheap to produce, Lou Anders and Pyr Books (who produce some of the finest eBooks in all of publishing) would tell you differently, but that and eBook-only release of these novels suggest that Orbit’s experiencing something of a lack of faith in a more traditional Fantasy novel penned by an author known almost exclusively for her Urban Fantasy.

So, it seems strange that Orbit Books would be so excited about their first eBook-only launch of a novel (or, in this case, a set of two novels), so ‘thrilled’ to limit the audience of one of their premier authors, to publish a book with only a partial bit of their publishing oomph behind it.

Does it suggest that the eBook market has matured to the point where it’s a viable medium in which to solely distribute and sell novels? Orbit thinks so; many, many self-published authors (like John Locke or, until recently, Michael J.Sullivan) believe so. Or is it a case of a publisher trying to spit shine their lack of confidence in the novels being able to recoup the costs associated with a physical release? Lilith Saintcrow isn’t a small fry, she’s got a heck of a lot of readers. But what about those unfortunate fans that don’t own an eReader or have no interest in reading the novels off their computer screen/smart phone (via the free Kindle/Kobo/etc… apps)? And if there’s little extra cost associated with printing/storing/selling physical books (at least not enough of an appreciable difference to bring down the cost of eBooks), why not produce (even in limited quantities) a physical edition for those fans? It’s a daring experiment on Orbit’s part, and not one I’m confident will bear great fruit.

And what’s in it for Saintcrow? Higher royalties, presumably, but there’s no way that Orbit’s matching Amazon.com’s the 70% royalties that she’d get if she self-published the novels. Market penetration of eReaders is high, but even if 50% (which is being extremely generous) of her readers were willing to read eBooks, that’s still a hell of a lot of sales left on the table. Why limit a target audience when Orbit is more than capable of producing and marketing physical copies alongside the eBook release (like, you know… a normal book release)? To dip their toes in the water and see how Saintcrow’s audience responds to her shifting genre?

This isn’t a step forward for publishing, but a rather startling look at where the publishing industry might be headed. Is this a case of Orbit saving some cash, or taking a chance and publishing books that wouldn’t have been good enough for publication the old fashioned way. Either way, it’ll be one heck of an interesting experiment to watch. Educate me, because I’m not seeing how this is beneficial to anyone.

Discussion
  • Andrea K Host October 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Odd that they’re not making a POD version available.

  • Marduk October 6, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    I have never read anything from this author and am not a fan of Urban Fantasy, as a general rule, so in this particular instance this does not affect me. However, if one of my favourite authors or indeed any book I wanted to read was released this way I would be deeply upset as I do not have any kind of ereader and have no interest in getting one. I realise I am a bit of a dinosaur in this respect but I just really prefer to read an actual book and not off of any kind of screen. Thus unless it was one of my absolute favourite authors whose book was being published in this manner they would lose me as a customer (and I buy a fair quantity of books)…

  • Miles October 6, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Just get a Kindle. It’s the best eReader on the market and there’s nothing that says you can’t also purchase physical copies of books too. They’re not mutually exclusive, and to think they are is absolutely ridiculous. I have the FIRST Kindle, when they were a ridiculous price, and the amount of money I’ve saved on books purchased through it has paid for it twice over already. You don’t even realize you’re not reading a book half the time; I often find my hand hovering near the upper right as if to turn the page.

    In general, though, I don’t feel it wise to put all your eggs in one basket either way you look at it. Boo, Orbit – boo.

  • aidan October 6, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    @Miles — I have both a Kindle and a Kobo Reader.

  • The Mad Hatter October 7, 2011 at 3:53 am

    I don’t think it is as all doom and gloom as you’re making it out to be. Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy are some of the biggest areas in electronic publishing. They have a loyal readership who are big kindle owners.

  • Steve October 7, 2011 at 5:30 am

    Stephen King did this with an ebook on the Kindle, UR or something along that lines. You can only get in in the Kindle store, and he does not intend to make an actual book out of it.

  • aidan October 7, 2011 at 5:41 am

    @Steve — Ur is a novella, which is a different story as far as I’m concerned.

  • Rob B October 7, 2011 at 5:47 am

    Stephen King did it before eBooks became as popular as they are now.

    so ‘thrilled’ to limit the audience of one of their premier authors, to publish a book with only a partial bit of their publishing oomph behind it. I’ll go with the opposite thought – it is SMART to do it with a successful proven author because the audience for the author is already present.

    This isn’t a step forward for publishing, but a rather startling look at where the publishing industry might be headed. Is this a case of Orbit saving some cash, or taking a chance and publishing books that wouldn’t have been good enough for publication the old fashioned way. Either way, it’ll be one heck of an interesting experiment to watch. Educate me, because I’m not seeing how this is beneficial to anyone.

    I think you answered your own question. I think this is a case of Orbit looking at where the publishing industry is at the moment and it is an experiment. Nothing is stopping them from eventually publishing this as a physical book.

    Dealing with returns is one of the worst things publishers have to deal with in the industry. The distributors hate it (they don’t want books returned from the bookstores), the bookstores hate it (they don’t want to re-shelf something they’ve sold) and the publishers hate it (they don’t want to take a hit from something they’ve already sold.

    As for the overall cost of an eBook (with the marketing, editing, production-to-get-the-file readable in a comparable to print format) is still there. The actual cost of physically printing a book after all those costs are added in is about a dollar or two per book. Problem is PERCEPTION which in the case of most readers is REALITY that they feel they should’t have to pay as much for something that doesn’t take up the same physical space as the book itself.

  • aidan October 7, 2011 at 7:54 am

    @Rob B — I’d argue that a dollar (14%) or two (28%) is fairly significant on a $7 paperback (which would have been another acceptable alternative to not releasing a physical book, much like Brent Weeks, Karen Miller and several other now prominent Orbit authors were first published).

    Bottom line is that the industry can’t have it both ways. There’s a reason that eBook-only is such a viable platform for self-published authors: there’s less overhead. It’s difficult to swallow when the publishers tell us that eBooks need to cost what they do (often over $10.00, sometimes more than the paperback) and then turn around and try to save money by doing an eBook-only publication. Which is it?

  • Rob B October 7, 2011 at 8:00 am

    True, and that dollar or two adds up over the course of hundreds to thousands of copies. I think a “Golden” price point for an eBook is around $5. It should be less than a physical book.

  • Hayley October 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    To be honest, I don’t see the point in making e-books for the most part. To my mind, e-books should be for self-published books or out of print titles, as it’s cheaper in the long term. I’m a tad suspicious about this move myself, but at this it may be a bit early to guess what the repercussions will be, or if there’ll be any at all.

  • Pabkins October 8, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    I do still think that they should release it as a physical book as well. But I think it will be alright – I think this is going to be a trend that we are going to see more of.

  • Rebecca June 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    I’m a bit late here but was looking up this book to see if there was a print version and this post popped up in Google. I REALLY wanted to read it, but I absolutely refuse to buy an e-book. I cannot justify the expense of an e-reader when I strongly prefer print and would only read a handful of books on the e-reader (basically only those books I was dying to read and couldn’t get in print, because I love print books too much), but reading on the computer is just no fun and hurts my eyes. So there’s one sale lost….