a buck a chapter for an e-book?

Published Author Self-Publishes…An Experiment?

This is interesting on many different levels. But the main focus for me was how I think this author isn’t totally getting the concept of digital books…and the people who read them. I get the feeling he’s using self-publishing as a vehicle to promote his hardcover/print release. It’s more like an experiment than an author taking digital publishing seriously.

I could be wrong. But if I’m not, the author is underestimating people who read digital books. People like me. I don’t even consider buying hardcover books anymore. I only buy and read digital. I prefer the digital reading experience. And so far, I’ve never met anyone who has switched to digital books and said they can’t wait to go back to reading print books, especially not after they’ve spent so much on e-readers. They ain’t cheap!! Once you get used to your e-reader and find out how it improves the reading experience, it’s almost impossible to go back to print.

And the day I spend a buck per chapter for any e-book is going to be the day I stop reading altogether…or the day a book has no more than ten long chapters.

I applaud what the author is doing. But I can’t help wondering how it’s going to turn out.

Despite having publishing deals with four major houses, bestselling African-American novelist Omar Tyree is experimenting with technology, self-publishing his latest novel, Corrupted, a feverish portrayal of power and ambition in the book industry, as a serialized Kindle edition e-book, releasing a chapter every week. Since July 15 and each Friday thereafter, Tyree has posted a chapter for readers to download for $1 each on Amazon.com, on his website omartyree.com, or at other e-book retail sites.

If this author had been checking out online retail web sites where e-books are sold, he’d know that most offer entire chapters for free. People who read e-books read more often and shop more often, therefore they want to (expect to) spend less. And I see nothing wrong with publishers and authors making money in volume.

Corrupted examines what Tyree calls “the dark side of the publishing industry,” through the actions of his protagonist Vincent Biddle, a power-drunk African-American editor at a fictitious major New York City publishing house. The novel, he said, was inspired by the way both the current economy and new technology are affecting the publishing world.

This sounds interesting to me. I’d love to read it. I’m dying to read it. But not for a buck a chapter. I’ll pass until he lowers the price to at least 9.99 for the entire e-book. For e-books, that’s where I personally draw the line. And I think I’m being generous. I know people who draw the line far lower and complain about 9.99.

Hyping the novel as “raw and unedited”—the book has been proofread by Tyree but not yet professionally edited—he invites his readers to post critiques and comments to either his website or his Twitter account @OmarTyree. He said he is open to revising the work if he considers the critiques worthy. He told PW that he expects the book to contain between 23 and 27 chapters.

This worries me. As I’ve posted before, there are already too many unedited digital books out there filled with poor quality. Do we really need another, and for a buck a chapter?

“Authors with the old traditional contracts can’t make the numbers,” Tyree said referring to sales. “In one day, an editor can be fired and if you were signed by that editor, you get a new editor who does not necessarily understand your work. Here we have a black editor trying to keep his job and move up to become a senior editor, when African American [sales] numbers are not doing well,” he said. “So [the editor’s] African American authors are getting dropped. How is he going to navigate? Editors are in positions of power, but they are scared to death too because if they pick a book that doesn’t fly, they are out the door.”

Again, this sounds fascinating. I’d love to read it. But not at a buck a chapter. I can’t help wondering if it’s mentioned in the book that so many publishers still don’t “get” digital books…or how to price them.

Tyree has published more than 16 books and has book deals with four publishers. But he didn’t believe that Corrupted would have been an easy sell to any of them. “Most of my books are with Simon & Schuster,” Tyree said. “I have a business book with Wiley, two with Urban Books–a subsidiary of Kensington–and Scholastic is printing and distributing 12 Brown Boys,” a short story collection aimed at black pre-teen boys originally published by Just Us Books.

“I didn’t bring [Corrupted] to a publisher because it’s brand new and experimental—it’s my own individual project to connect with my readers,” he said, pointing out also that, “this book does not fit a genre.” Tyree explained that, “If I’m locked into a genre like African-American, or street, or crime, then I have to put certain things in it. A traditional publisher would [look at Corrupted and] warn, ‘Omar, you are getting away from your base!’ But this way, I can connect with a new set of readers.”

This sounds interesting, too. I’d buy it. But lower the price.

Tyree mentioned that another reason he’s self-publishing is that he didn’t come up with the idea until May, but still wanted to get the book out in the summer to catch the summer reading season. The project also works to fill in the gap until his next hardcover release, scheduled for 2012. “But I wouldn’t have been able to rush it, even as an e-book,” Tyree said, “So I thought, anyone who’s going to download it is someone who probably downloads all the time. So that’s an advantage to me–just give them a chapter a week.”

He’s on the right track. Anyone who’s going to download it is probably someone who reads digital books all the time. But not at that price. People who read e-books do, in fact, read a lot more these days, which is even more important to consider how a book is priced. People have reading budgets. They draw lines.

Tyree said Kindle Edition has a 90-day royalty period and he will not have sales figures for the book project until mid-October. Even then, he added, he isn’t planning to be affected by them. “Back in 2001 I was so focused on sales numbers–-but I learned the hard way that the numbers game can drive you crazy,” Tyree said. “So [for Corrupted] I decided I’m not even going to break down the numbers when the royalty statement comes. I’ve already learned: don’t think about the numbers; just think about the book.”

I could be wrong here. But I can’t help wondering how many books he would have sold if he’d priced the book like other e-books instead of at a dollar a chapter. I know that sounds cheap to some. But if the book has 27 chapters, or more, that’s going to add up.

Tyree promised lots of drama and intrigue in upcoming chapters, “You will see the behind-the-scenes action: the meetings at the publishing house, the bidding wars, the decisions about which authors the editors have to cut loose. It’s going to get vicious!”

Once again, for the last time, absolutely fascinating content. I’d love to read this book. But as my grandmother used to say, “He’ll die with his secret as far as I’m concerned.” I want a quality e-book at a fair price, not an experiment in publishing.