In yesterday's blog entry, Self-Publishing - Has Anyone Tried This?, Scott Watermasysk made the following comment:
In general, I have thought about the e-book thing in the past. I have had two book contracts that just needed ink to get them started. However, because of different circumstances, neither deal worked out, but I still think there is a market for 40-100 page books which nails a specific topic. Of course, I have no proof to back this up, just a gut feeling. So like you said, I just might have to give it a shot sometime...
I had this inclination myself at one point, so I decided to email Dan Appleman, well-known .NET author and VB.NET guru who has released a number of eBooks that are available on Amazon.com, such as: Visual Basic .NET or C#: Which to Choose?; Exploring .NET; and Hijacking .NET: Role Based Security. (The latter book got some press on Slashdot a while ago...) Dan has also written a number of traditional print books as well; just do a Google search for “Dan Appleman” and you'll see what I mean. Dan was kind enough to respond, and I include our email conversation here, which took place back in February 2003. Dan's response is in bold. (Email reposted with Dan's permission.)
Hello Dan, my name is Scott Mitchell and I am a fellow author, focusing on ASP/ASP.NET. Anywho, I am a fan of your books and have noticed that you have been publishing a number of PDF books lately (VB.NET vs. C#, RegEx in .NET, Logging & Tracing in .NET) for sale @ Amazon.com. I was wondering if you could share some advice with me. I have a few questions you hopefully have the time to answer:
1.) How do you get your books listed on Amazon.com like that, what are their fees, etc. (I scoped the Amazon.com site figuring there is a link that explains this all, but couldn't find it)
I got lucky. Normally Amazon only handles significant publishers. They are really only at the early stages of handling eDocs and aren't set up to deal directly with lots of authors, so they typically work with aggregators who carry lots of eBooks/eDocs. The reason I got in was MightyWords. They had an "everybody is welcome" perspective, which attracted lots of content, much of which was crap. When they went under, Amazon called me. Probably because my eBook had held a lock on the #1 best selling position on Mightwords pretty much from the day it came out. I think they were pleased with the choice, since 2 of my eBooks were in the top 10 for 2002.
2.) How is it financially? That is, ballpark, how much $$$ do you get per book sale? Also, what is a reasonable # of books to expect to sell via this medium?
Bottom line is - the economics of eDocs are still not ready for prime time. As an editorial director at Apress, every six months or so I run the numbers to figure out whether it makes sense for us to start publishing eDocs (as a publisher, we'd be in the perfect position to do so). The sales numbers just aren't there yet. To be specific - an eDoc best seller might do 1000 copies. That's all. The catch is the marketing - Think 200 copies of a $10 eBook (a more realistic number). You get 50%, so you make $1,000. How much marketing can you do with that? Not much. In my case, the reason it works is that I can piggy-back my eBook marketing onto Desaware. So I'm getting a lot of "free" promotion, which gets my numbers into the several hundred range. Without it, I'd be lucky to see a sale. To a large degree, this is an investment in the future. If readers wake up and figure out that eBooks make sense, it's not unreasonable for numbers to go into print book range (5000,10000, more?), at which point eDocs become more profitable than books (since the amount you make on each is comparable to your royalty on a book, but took 10% of the effort). Long before then I'd expect the major publishers to start commisioning eBooks directly with authors (solving your marketing problem).
3.) What software do you use to write the book? Word and then convert to PDF or do you use special software designed for generating PDFs, such as Acrobat?
Word straight to PDF using Adobe Acrobat.
Anyway, I hope that helps. If you have a high traffic web-site, you may find eBooks a nice channel. If not, you'll find that they just don't sell themselves.
Something to think about before jumping into the eDoc market.