Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Are Printed Books Dead?

With the rise of tablets and other e-readers, some are starting to pronounce the traditional hard back book as dead. As new versions of e-readers like the Kindle become more advanced, the noise about the death of books becomes louder.

Are we really part of the last generation to be able to purchase, own and consume paper books at will? Here are a few reasons why many think we are:

Book shops dwindling

In a world where we can buy things at the click of a button, many high street and independent retailers suffer as a result. In 2011 American book retailing giant Borders closed its doors for good, despite being the prime retailer of books in both the UK and USA (alongside its parent group Barnes & Noble). A lot of this was attributed to the fact that as well as there being fewer people actually reading hard back books, those who did want to read solid printed books usually bought their desired books online. Retailers like Amazon, who are a one stop shop for almost any need you have, took the custom from shops as consumers could buy books here at the same time as making any other purchase. The convenience factor plays a big role here, especially at peak retail times like Christmas. Not only that, retailers like Amazon are able to offer books both used and new at a much lower price than book shops as there are no store overheads, not to mention free delivery on orders of a certain cost, meaning the consumer isn’t put out by ordering this way so it becomes less of an issue that they may not get to open their book for a couple of days.

And so with less book shops comes less need to print as many books overall. However Amazon has contributed to the death of print in a much bigger way.

The rise of e-readers

The first Kindle launched in November 2007 and in the last 7 or so years the device by Amazon has gone from strength to strength with each new model which has been released. The small sleek design, roughly the same size as a paperback but far lighter, proved appealing for those who love to read at any opportunity. Both a popular space saver in your handbag, suitcase and in your home, the Kindle breathed a whole new lease of life into the hobby that is reading. Soon many different brands of e-reader cropped up, offering all the same benefits as a Kindle.

As a result, e-readers and in turn e-books then became popular, fashionable and affordable. As e-books don’t have to be printed and delivered to a store, the cost to produce and sell them then becomes much less than an average paperback or hardback. This means that e-books can sell for much less, and in quite a lot of instances you’ll find e-books for free available in most e-reader libraries. Therefore although you pay an initial expense with an e-reader, it becomes more cost-effective in the long run to enjoy reading this way, which then drives down the need for as many printed books.

The digital world

Although e-readers make up a large part of the digital world, our whole attitude and adoption of the digital technology available to us is another contributing factor to the death of printed books. For example, with an e-reader you can buy a book directly from the library and have it added to your device in seconds. You could have an account linked to your bank details or you may opt to use a payment method like PayPal, but either way, the transaction is almost instant and you can enjoy your books in minutes.

But it’s not just books we can consume in the digital world or even on our Kindles any more. Now you can pay your bills, play games, gamble and so much more too.

With all these factors considered, it’s easy to see why it looks like the death of printed books is near.

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher

I'm stepping into the way-back machine today to highlight a series I wrote back in 2009 about selling your eBook without a publisher.

Back then I was just getting started with self-publishing. A lot of people were. I used the series of posts primarily as a way to familiarize myself with the various retailers, services, and how to actually produce an eBook. I've learned a lot since then. Still learning, in fact. But I think this series is still relevant. In fact, I think I could expand on it. For example, Kobo and CreateSpace are missing as retailers and service providers, respectively. Both are used by yours truly.

But, for now, here is the 8 part series in its original form broken down by post.

  1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
  2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
  3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
  4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4:
  5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
  6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
  7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
  8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

This is the final post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4:
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy (this post)

This post is about selling strategy. What I mean by this, or rather what I don't mean, is marketing or self-promotion. Both of those topics are important, and in fact this topic probably crosses over into those, but what I'd like to talk about here is this: I've listed one eBook on Amazon, Smashwords, Scribd, and Lulu, but with another novel soon to be complete, what's next? Where do I go from here?

As I see it, here are my options:

1.) Go the traditional publishing route

This may smack of heresy after I just posted seven (eight, including this one) posts all geared towards circumventing the traditional process, but hear me out. There's no doubt we're entering into a new world as far as publishing is concerned, but just because we can sell our work direct to readers does not instantly make the agents, copyeditors, publishers, and other personnel in the publishing industry obsolete. In fact, for those who truly want to embrace writing as a full-time occupation, I still think they're necessary. They bring expertise, leverage, and make distribution into real, physical bookstores a reality. They have access to the channels where most people still get their books from. This is to our benefit as writers.

2.) Give my eBooks (or short fiction) away for free

It's no secret that the most successful eBooks selling on Amazon are given away for free. Some think we're heading towards $0 eBooks, anyway. But free doesn't pay the bills; for full-time writers this obviously isn't an option. But for a new writer who can sustain him/herself in other ways, it might be a viable option for gaining readers. The idea might be to give away one book hoping to sell copies of another. Giving away short fiction fits into this as well. By no means does this mean giving away content for free forever. It might just be for a limited time, to perk up interest.

3.) Serialize my novel here

John Scalzi serialized his first novel, Old Man's War, on his blog before selling it to Tor. J.C. Hutchins serialized in audio format his first novel, 7th Son. The end result for both authors was a publishing contract. In Scalzi's case, he was already getting 1,000 hits/day on his blog (I get 100 on a good day; Scalzi probably gets 100/hour now). Serializing a novel for free no doubt brought in even more readers and attracted the attention of Tor. Hutchins, an unknown when he started, marketed his novel like a madman, gaining a huge following and an eventual contract as well. In these two cases, serialization worked. In general, giving away anything for free is going to work, to a point. Also, keep in mind that just because you're giving away something for free does not mean everyone is going to come to your site to read/download it. Some people still like going to bookstores and buying a "real" copy of a book. Serialization is just another way of getting your work in front of more people. Given the choice between "more" and "less", I'll take the former.

4.) Sell my eBooks here on my blog

Many authors do this, especially as rights revert back from a publisher. It's a great way to get some more life (and revenue) out of a title that has otherwise been remaindered. It's also a nice way to get your novel out to people while you're seeking a contract, which can take a very long time if it happens at all. The biggest plus of selling from your own site is you get to keep 100% (or near to that) of the revenue.

5.) Sell my eBooks through the various eRetailers I covered in this blog series

There are a lot of people who visit, say, Amazon, who probably will never come to my web site. It is therefore important to also sell through other channels, even if you are giving up a larger piece of the pie by doing so. Keep in mind, too, that eBooks that sell well via online retailers sometimes are picked up for publication.

In closing this post…

I don't think any one method is the sole way to go in today's world. Rather, I'm considering a hybrid approach of some of the above once my second novel is complete. I still want to go the traditional route because I think it's the best option for success. On the other hand, I don't want my novel languishing in a drawer while I wait for the luck of the draw to deem my work worthy of being published.

Concluding this series

In conclusion of this series let me just say that I hope I've shed some light on the different options for publishing online. The publishing world is changing; it's best to remain aware of the new possibilities.

iPad: The Day After

The iPad's iBookshelf The wait is over. Apple debuted their all-new entry into the tablet market and it is called the iPad.

I wanted to post this as a follow-up to my post of a couple of days ago where I wondered if the iPad was really the "Kindle-killer" everyone was thinking it might be. Even now, I don't think the question has been answered as there are people continuing to argue both sides with others who believe the two can happily co-exist. We may not know for sure until the iPad is actually released for sale in a couple of months.

Personally, I think there's room for both. The only crossover in functionality is both devices' ability to act as an eReader. The iPad has the advantage of a backlit color screen, but only 10 hours of battery life. The Kindle has the advantage of eInk, which while black and white is so crisp it's like you're reading a page from a paper book. Also, there's no eyestrain with eInk and the Kindle can literally last for weeks without a charge (with the 3G wireless turned off). People looking to read eBooks will likely go with the more specialized eReader device. People looking for more, the iPad. Regardless, we'll likely see more and better features emerge for both devices, something that is a win-win for consumers.

Of particular note is Apple's iBookstore announcement, which is essentially an app that allows you to purchase/read eBooks. In addition, iTunes will begin selling eBooks. What hasn't been mentioned is if Apple will open iTunes to self-published authors similar to how Amazon has done so with the Kindle store. This model would be similar to developers selling apps for the iPhone through iTunes. It's not that far of a step to include eBooks in on this. For right now, though, eBooks will only come from the major publishing houses. Whether the iPad is the publishing industry's savior remains to be seen.

I'll leave you to formulate your own opinion with some related stories I found interesting:

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4:
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd 
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu (this post)
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

The next ePublisher I want to look at in this series is Lulu.

Home page of

What is Lulu?

Lulu is a bit different from the other ePublishers I have featured so far because in addition to offering traditional eRetailer services, Lulu also sells traditional books by using the magic of POD.

POD, or Print on Demand, is a service where a paper book isn't actually printed until someone orders it. Once someone places an order for a traditional paper book through Lulu, Lulu's machinery kicks into high gear, prints the book, and next thing you know you've got a printed, bound book waiting on your doorstep. The advantages of this model is cost (from the publisher's perspective) because no inventory exists until it is needed. This differs from a traditional vanity press in that there is no upfront cost associated with the POD service. Lulu doesn't "make" anything until someone buys one of your books.

Besides for POD, Lulu also sells straight eBooks. That will be my primary focus here.

You can follow Lulu on Twitter or subscribe to the Lulu blog.

How much does Lulu charge?

From their FAQ:

Lulu takes a small commission when your content is purchased. Lulu's commission is 20% of the profit from a purchased item.

Sounds great at first glance. Dig a little deeper and you'll find that Lulu also charges a "base price" which is built into the price of your eBook which, of course, ultimately increases your asking price. The standard base price for eBooks is $1.49, which goes to cover "file hosting, bandwidth, and credit card transaction costs".

Previous analysis showed the following charges for the other eRetailers I've covered: Scribd charges 45%; Amazon, 65%; and Smashwords, 42%.

So, let's say you're charging $5 for your eBook. How much are you really making on each sale with Lulu? The breakdown is this:

$5.00 (asking price) - $1.49 (base price) = $3.51

20% commission of the seller's profit: $3.51 * 0.2 = $0.70

So, $3.51 - $0.70 = $2.81

You'll see later on that Lulu provides a calculator to make this process a little easier. Using it, I found that I have to charge readers twice as much as I what I might charge on Amazon, for example, just to make the same amount of money for myself. Here's a quick screenshot to illustrate:

Lulu price breakdown

That's a whopping 84% commission Lulu charges to sell eBooks on their site at the $2 sale price. Put the price at $5/eBook and it comes out to 44% (56% in your pocket). The base price obviously skews things very badly at lower price points. Unfortunately, lower price points are where eBooks want to be.

What file formats does Lulu support?

Lulu sells eBooks in ePUB and PDF format:

Lulu eBook formats

For both, you have the option of selling with or without DRM.

See my post for more info on E-book File Formats.

The Lulu Storefront

Lulu sells a variety of items, including books, eBooks, calendars, photo books, DVD's, etc. Since I'm principally concerned with eBooks, I'll take a look at that storefront.

The eBooks storefront

Lulu does a very nice job of breaking down their available eBooks into the many genres and categories. Clicking on "Science Fiction & Fantasy" brings up what you might expect. By twiddling with the interface a little you can search just the section you want, but only by Title and/or Creator:

Lulu's Science Fiction & Fantasy section

I like the Lulu interface, especially that they're upfront and center with price and the format available for purchase.

Publishing with Lulu

Lulu publishing can be accomplished in three easy steps:

3 easy steps to publishing with Lulu

I'm going to go through those publishing steps here and now, as I write this post, so I'll see firsthand just how easy the process is. ;-)

Here are the steps:

1. Start a New Project

The first step is creating what Lulu calls a "project". I'll use the title of my book as the "Working Title", my name was already filled in since I'm logged in, and I'll select "Make it public to sell in the Lulu Marketplace" since that's the reason I'm here.

Starting a new project with Lulu

2. Add Files

Next step is uploading files.

Upload files to Lulu

Lulu says you can upload in a variety of formats:

Lulu supported file formats

It's nice that they added support for EPUB. Because my eBook is already in PDF format, though, I'll upload that version and make a mental note that I still need to convert my eBook to EPUB format as I would like potential buyers to have that option.

Choosing my PDF and pressing upload flashes some activity…

Uploading your eBook status

…and in no time my file is uploaded:

Your file has been uploaded

3. Design Your Cover

For those following along in this series, you know why book covers are important. Lulu has a nice feature in that you can create a generic cover using their templates:

Creating a book cover using Lulu

Besides for generic templates and background colors, you can select your own image or browse the Lulu Gallery. While the gallery had some nice images, I've already created my own. Uploading it went smoothly though I did have to tweak the image size to fit Lulu's minimum size requirement of 621 x 810 pixels.

I went, of course, with my stock image for my eBook:Upload image success4. Describe Your Project   

You'll notice Lulu said we could do this in three steps. Yet here we are on step four…

In any case, now we get to add some descriptive detail to our eBook, including keywords and copyright information:

My Lulu project described

5. Digital Rights Management

Now this is kind of interesting. I have the option of adding DRM to my eBook, but at a cost:

DRM, but at a cost

Of course, I won't be paying the extra $0.99; my readers will. I don't like DRM to begin with, and certainly don't want to make people pay more just to have to deal with it's hassles. I'll choose the DRM-free option.

6. Set Your Project Price

Note that we are now at twice the number of steps Lulu said we'd have to go through. Just saying…

This is where we'll set our eBook price.

Set your eBook price

Focusing in on the right-hand side:

Lulu's cost calculator

Because of the pricing discussion above I'm going to leave the price of my eBook at $5… for now.

7. Review Your Project

This is the last step. A quick review of what we've already entered, click the confirmation button, and we're done.

The Hall of the Wood, published on Lulu

You can now purchase The Hall of the Wood from Lulu.


Lulu is another viable option for selling your eBook, though I found their pricing structure not as competitive as the other eRetailers I featured in this series. Still, it's another outlet in which to gain some eyeballs.


[ Amazon Featured Short: The Inheritance by Robin Hobb ]

[ Follow me on Twitter ]