The Dangers of Ignoring the Ebook Revolution

On January 8th, the long awaited final edition in the Wheel of Times series was released in hardcover.  The ebook, however, was no where to be found, and won’t be available until April 9th. Hardcover only releases have existed for years, but where people were once willing to wait six-months or a year for the “cheaper version” paperback, ebook readers are not so inclined, and book producers need to beware their wrath. From my understanding it was Rober’s widow, Harriet McDougal, who insisted on the delay, and if I were to guess her mindset it probably went something like this:

  • ebooks make it to easy to pirate the book, and it will show up minutes after release on torrent sites
  • Hardcovers, with their higher price, make more money than ebooks and will cannibalize the earnings
  • It’s only four months, the series has taken more than two decades to be “fully told” so four months is nothing

The result of this three month delay, however, resulted in turning ardent fans of the series into disgruntled customers.  Within just a few days the 1-star reviews topped 200 with comments such as:

  • “Late eBook = No Money for Tor”
  • No eBook! Poor Publishing Decision
  • No Kindle Edition= No Buy”
  • Profoundly disappointing”

While having a book with a 2.5-star rating may dissuade a book by an unknown author, these 1-star reviews are not going to effect the sales of A Memory of Light, but what will is a backlash that since the publisher and Harriet are “being greedy” that it is all right for them to pirate the books. Many have cited that if the book was available they would would purchased it right away, but as it is not they went to the torrent sites and got free copies (yes, it was available on torrents, almost as quickly – it doesn’t take long to scan a book with today’s OCR technology.

Will some of those who pirated the book later on come back and buy a legal copy? It’s hard to say.  My guess is if they love the book they’ll do exactly that. If they are disappointed, then they’ll see this a way of sending a message that the decision was wrong in the first place.  A few will boycott the last book altogether.

To me the delay has caused more ill will, and resulted in a probable loss of income, that just wasn’t worth separating the releases.

I think if they were not constrained, Tor would probably have put out the versions out simultaneously, and I implore publishers and authors to learn from this mistake and realize that the ebook revolution is now firmly entrenched. Interestingly enough, I got a tweet yesterday from a reader of my work asking if my upcoming release of The Crown Tower would have a simultaneous release in both versions come August. I was able to answer the question without reservation, because I had explicitly added language about simultaneous releases during the contract negotiation and Orbit had agreed. I did this so that I wouldn’t find myself, or my books, on the receiving end of similar ire. I hope that other book releases learn from this mistake.


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  1. Ebook release without the hardcopy release…it depends. If it is from a major publisher – it shouldn't be the case. The whole reason for going with a big-publisher is their strength in distribution of paper – so you don't want to be in a "digital only" release with one of them. I actually have another post on exactly this subject. If we are talking about self-publsihing, then I say – yes start with digital, and only do hard copy if you have a lot of demand for it. It's harder to do than ebooks and the vast majority of sales for self-published authors isn't in printed copies.

    I think there will be a trend to eliminating hard copy altogether. Again if this is from a major traditional press -then I think it is doing the author a disservice. If it is a self-published author then it probably makes a lot of sense.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "What’s the effect on an Ebook’s success without hardcopy releases?" If the question is can you be successful with an ebook only release – the answer is yes – there are many self-published authors who only have ebook editions and yet have sold thousands (in the tens and hundreds) of copies.

    1. Thanks Michael – – You guessed precisely, in fact, regarding Ebook only release. I've been thinking that Ebook success not only provides some cash flow, but provides justification for going hardcopy.

      Most of the writers in the writers' group I've been in believe that self-publishing is for suckers. But I've always thought that many people are simply technophobic and that's why they don't support Ebooks. Admittedly. It's a lot of work and worry for one person.

      You've been very informative and I plan on following your articles closely.

      1. I can understand where the "self-publishing is for suckers" comes from, because historically it wasn't a viable alternative…but times have changed and you should tell the authors in your group to do some research rather than putting their heads in the sand. I personally know more self-published authors that earn a living wage than I do traditional publishing ones. And I've submitted some upcoming posts on the subject that breaks down the numbers.

        I'm fortunate in that i made good money in both self and traditional, but at least in my case, and others I know, I was was signed BECAUSE of my self-publishing, not INSPITE of it.

  2. I'm curious what your take is on an Ebook release without the hardcopy release. What's the outlook for Ebooks as the primary release, with paperback or hardback a secondary consideration? Is there a trend toward eliminating hardcopy releases altogether? What's the effect on an Ebook's success without hardcopy releases?

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