September 30, 2010

An ebook of 100 sales (a month)


My sister's novella, A Man of Few Words, has been averaging three sales a day in the Amazon Kindle store, adding up to 96 for the month by yesterday afternoon. So I wasn't sure it would make it over the century mark. But today it soared to 108 and a new high ranking.


It will be interesting to see what kind of numbers an enovella can rack up in a crowded genre with no publicity other than a couple of posts on two low-traffic blogs. Over a year, 1200 sales is a respectable number for any small press.

On the other hand, I think too much discussion about the Kindle platform focuses on the contrast between the economic models of "traditional" and ebook publishing rather than the relative strengths of each medium.

Most music sells in the CD format, and there are even LPs around. The printed book has a long life ahead of it. Bill Hill--he helped develop ClearType and the Microsoft Reader, still the best ebook engine--gushes over the electronic typesetting made possible by the high-rez iPad display.

As with paper, there's surely a market for it, and any ebook reader worth its salt should faithfully render PDF. But keep in mind that back when offset and letterpress were the only games in town, low-rez newspapers and dimestore novels sold a lot more units than high-rez hardcover books.

Right now, E Ink and iPad have similar resolutions--close to offset newsprint--but what I'm referring to is the creative balance between text and layout. With newsprint, the goal is to get the text to the public as quickly and cheaply as possible, not to turn it into a work of graphical art.

That's what the Kindle can do. That's the breakthrough. The screen is good enough; the platform is inexpensive and light enough; and the content is affordable and accessible enough. These are the factors that the "traditional" publishers should be paying attention to.

As with A Man of Few Words, the Kindle makes the novella a viable literary genre. The overhead is essentially zero and it can be priced to the market. The same goes for practically any text that was once distributed on newsprint.

All the power to the glossies and their nifty iPad apps. But for the people who really do read them "for the articles," the Kindle delivery model strikes me as ideal, especially at the low-circulation, literary end (provided that the whole point isn't to produce a pretty printed thing to sit on the shelf).

When it comes to distributing content (including the angst-inducing doujinshi), I'll be curious to see how how Amazon and Apple (and Sony and B&N and Lightning Source) can create distribution channels flexible enough to place text in all its variations before the eyes of the consumer.

UPDATE: cross-posted at TeleRead.

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