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Booktango and the Future of DIY E-book Publishing

“[W]hile everyone won’t be successful, everyone will have the opportunity to be successful.”

By Dena Croog

There are a lot of options out there for self-publishers, but representatives of Booktango, a major player in DIY e-book publishing, truly believe their online formatting and editing tools are best-in-class and easiest to use. The service, which is owned by Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI), currently offers a “Freetango” promotion wherein authors who publish by July 4, 2012 will receive the maximum possible royalties from their e-book sales. Authors receive all royalties for e-books sold through the Booktango bookstore, and, as Chris Bass, Director of Marketing for Booktango, explains in a press release: “If it’s sold through another outlet, the e-books retailer takes their standard fee, and the author gets the rest. Booktango takes nothing — no other publishing company is offering anything this beneficial to authors.”

Booktango prides itself in its superiority over other multiple-channel distribution competitors in three different ways: an easy-to-use interface, the widest distribution to every e-reader and e-retailer, and the highest royalties.

In addition to its free DIY features, Booktango offers fee-based add-ons, among them book formatting, correction and editing, and promotional services such as virtual book signings and multiple-author webinars.

“At the end of the book signing, every person who attends the event is e-mailed a PDF of a book stub, which allows them to download one free copy of each of the authors’ books,” says Keith Ogorek, Senior VP of Marketing at ASI, in an interview with Publishing Perspectives.

“I think it’s really going to be something authors will use to promote their books,” he adds. “Because you have the opportunity to get your books into the hands of readers in such a way that they’ll start to talk about it—which is one of the keys to helping books spread.”

The Future of Pricing

In response to a question posed recently by Digital Book World, “In three words, what is the future of e-book pricing?,” Ogorek stresses “word of mouth” in conjunction with promotional efforts such as those offered by Booktango. He suggests that when DIY authors must decide on an appropriate e-book price, they should “take price out of the equation” for a short time. He maintains that, as many authors strategize, the first concern is to get the book into the marketplace, even if that means selling it at a lower price. Then, if the book is good, readers will act as a “promotional team” of sorts. Once word of mouth leads to greater demand for the book, the price can be raised.

Ogorek also offers advice for authors who are deciding between using the e-book platform or going the traditional publishing route:

“Traditional publishers right now have cut down their title selections significantly. So if you’ve got a long time to wait and tough skin, then I think traditional publishing’s a good option for you. If you want to have your book available in all formats — hardcover, paperback and digital — you want someone to help you go through the process, which is assisted self-publishing. If you really know what you’re doing and you’re not concerned about limited distribution in terms of just being a digital book, Booktango is the best option out there.”

Evolving Formats

According to Jane Friedman in the May/June issue of Writer’s Digest, the coming and going of multiple e-book formats across digital readers, devices and services is comparable to the “Wild West.” Ogorek says a better analogy is the evolution of film from 8mm reel, to Betamax versus VHS, to DVDs, and now to streaming videos. He predicts that, in time, there will be one standard format that would allow a person to stream a book on any device—Kindle, iPad, Nook—but it would be housed somewhere “up in the clouds” and wouldn’t actually be downloaded into any particular device.

This is Ogorek’s prediction for future e-book formatting. As for content, he predicts that it will become “richer and more enthralling” as the ability to add video, audio and interactive features becomes more and more commonplace, much in the way Apps became increasingly sophisticated.

Ogorek also predicts that traditional publishing will run parallel to the film industry. Traditional movie studios continued to produce what he dubs “celebrity films” (eg, Spider Man, The Avengers), as they have the size in capital, resources and distribution to do as much. But they also developed partnerships with smaller independent production companies to develop other films that didn’t require a 9-figure investment but still had the opportunity to tell a great story and make money (e.g. The King’s Speech, The Help).

“We’re seeing the same thing happen in publishing right now. Traditional publishers are publishing what I would call ‘celebrity books.’ Simon & Schuster did the Steve Jobs book. I’m not sure a small independent would have the capital resources to meet the demand for that book. While it did sell a significant amount in e-books, it still sold a significant amount in print. And you need the resources of a traditional publisher to acquire the rights, package it up and distribute it.

“But, what you’re also going to see is a significant portion of the revenues are going to come from e-books. They already have started and will continue to do that in the future. The other thing you’re going to see is that in the same way publishers created a relationship with independent film companies and Sundance was born as a way to find new and upcoming talent and ideas, so too will you see traditional publishers doing that.”

Ogorek refers to ASI’s strategic alliance with Thomas Nelson and Hay House to create self-publishing imprints. The idea is to find new talent: self-published authors make the initial investment to produce a title, but eventually they might be picked up and put into the traditional publisher’s traditional publishing imprint.

Are Self-Published E-books a Bubble?

In response to a recent Guardian article arguing that the DIY e-book boom industry is over-hyped, over-leveraged and an e-book “bubble” likely to soon pop (Ewan Morrison, January 2012), Ogorek states that, instead of an e-book bubble, the current phenomenon is akin to what we saw in the cell phone industry. There’s no threat of a bubble bursting; rather, technology will continue to improve and we will see a consolidation.

“Right now there are a number of people entering the market. But just like you saw with the cell phone market, there were a number of providers—whether they were local, regional, national or even global—and when the business settled out there were only a few large players around the world. I think you’re going to see the same thing in the DIY e-book market.”

Ogorek further connects the e-book and cell phone industries as both stemming from the desire to communicate.

“People started doing e-books, if you will, in the caves, when they wrote pictures on the wall. You follow that through history and you see now there are 180 million people blogging. The desire to continue to write and communicate is something that isn’t driven by technology, but it’s just made available by technology.”

The Guardian article also charged that there’s a dangerous delusion that all self-e-publishers can achieve success, when in reality almost all self-published e-books receive very few readers due to lack of visibility. Ogorek counters that there are other reasons that an e-book may not sell, such as because the topic isn’t relevant, the author doesn’t have a clear picture of who the audience is, or the book simply isn’t well written. He cites Bronnie Ware’s The Top Five Regrets of the Dying as an example of a book that wouldn’t have bubbled up to the surface had there not been the electronic and self-publishing options that we have today. After writing an article in a local publication, Ware published a book through Balboa Press (Hay House’s self-publishing imprint). The book was an internet sensation and was eventually acquired by Hay House (March 2012).

“While not everyone’s going to be Bronnie Ware, I would suggest to you that without the publishing opportunities that exist today because of DIY, Bronnie Ware would never have happened. To me, that’s the story here. It’s not about the failures, but about those who actually succeed because of this opportunity. Who otherwise would not have had the opportunity because there weren’t the technologies like Booktango available.”

Ultimately, Ogorek maintains that this is the best time in history to be an author:

“Because while everyone won’t be successful, everyone will have the opportunity to be successful. And that in itself is something that I think is worth talking about.”

DISCUSS: Are Self-Published E-books a Bubble About to Pop?

Note: Article was corrected to reflect error in earlier version referring to “Betamax versus VCR’s.”

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  1. Posted June 12, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    >>Ogorek says a better analogy is the evolution of film from 8mm reel, to Betamax versus VCRs<<

    WRONG. Betamax and VHS were two competing VCR formats. A media expert should know better.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Coming very soon: "499 Essential Publishing Tips for a Penny Apiece" (e-book) http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing/499selfpublishingtips.html
    — New: deluxe hardcover edition of "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," http://www.amazon.com/dp/0983057249
    http://www.BookFur.com (information, help and book reviews for authors)
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html

  2. manoj kumar
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    nice tool in e-books

  3. Posted June 13, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Really interesting article. Lots of focus on how new formats in e-publishing benefit authors (which is great!) but there are also some exciting developments in the way new platforms benefit readers. For instance LeanPub allows readers to download in the major ebook formats EPUB, MOBI and as a PDF. Further, authors can update the text and readers (after the initial purchase) automatically get updated. So if new research is available in a field, readers can be updated with new chapters. From a fiction perspective, chapters can be released incramentally. Serialization has mostly fallen out of favor and lots of people will think it’s the domain of a lot of 19th century novels, but I think a lot of readers see the appeal in not having the story all in one go, but rather having some time to mull over each chapter as it arrives.

  4. Ralph Grayden
    Posted June 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    To suggest we’re in an epublishing bubble seems wishful thinking on the part of traditional publishers, who are watching the game change in front on them. True, the ease with which an ebook can be released means we’ll see more and more coming out and this means that fewer and fewer will “make it” but there’s no reason a thriving ebook industry can’t sit parallel to traditional publishers. If anything, I think it spells the end of the slushpile; the end of sending of a printed manuscript and then waiting six months for a response; and, yes, possibly even the end – or at least the rationalisation – of agents.

    As someone who’s successfully charting a course through the whole self publishing route I’d make a few observations.

    First, as with anything, you need a good product. (Just because something’s been rejected by traditional publishers doesn’t mean it’s bad. In an industry with low margins, traditional publishers have always needed to be cautious; that means very little that gets submitted actually gets published.)

    Second, authors need to have a target market. Third, they need to know how to reach them. That’s no easy thing for, say literary fiction, but for other genres, it’s really not that hard at all. Better still, being self published is no impediment to getting the message out. Fantasy, science fiction, chick lit (and, yes, erotica) all have established online communities full of vociferous readers who are actively looking for new and interesting things to read. It’s in these genres that self publishing is flourishing and is likely to keep going strong. The barriers to advertising and marketing in these communities is low and if an author is happy to take responsibility for their own PR there’s no reason something can’t succeed.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents worth. Oh, and because authors should never miss a chance to self promote, if you’re interested in my book you can buy it on Amaon here, .

  5. Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    As the author of 5 BICYCLE YOUR FRANCE guidebook along with 4 Queue Sheets companion guides, I have experienced a times 4 sales increase so far in 2012 (over 2011). This increase is the result of reformatting the manuscripts for Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad. The Kindle versions outsell the iPad versions nearly 3 to 1. I think cyclists take their devices on rides, and are willing to risk a Kindle, even a Kindle Fire, over an iPad.

    Watch for my 6th guidebook, ROMAN PROVENCE AND RHONE ALPES, during July 2012.

    More information from me at wjmoore@tampabay.rr.com

  6. billsmith80
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    The “bubble” the author is referring to is the huge number of new start-ups who have been founded and funded to serve aspiring self-published authors. This is just another one of those.

  7. John F. Harnish
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Keith draws some interesting parallels between the Digital Age of Publishing and other forms of digital communication. A few of his observations echo what I’ve been explaining to authors for well over a decade—I’ve been writing professionally and involve in some aspect of the publishing industry for more than half a century.

    I’m not sure if some of what he was saying wasn’t “the corporate line” for ASI making nice with the publishing industry regarding his vision of the future of traditional publishing.

    The big corporate publishing houses are floundering in a sea of red ink from dwindling sales of their hyped titles in a shrinking marketplace. They are carrying a high overhead with frightful operating expenses supported by books with a narrow profit margin that’s eroded by returned books. HMH recently sought bankruptcy relief to eliminate 3.1 billion dollars in debt. Yes, that’s “billion” with a “B.”
    I wonder if it’s still true that 10% of traditionally published titles are generating 90% of their earned profit. They bank on making bestsellers that will carry the weight. However, the evolution of digital publishing has produced a surge of good books by motivated authors that are selling in significant numbers that could be considered bestsellers.

    There’s a similar ratio of 10:90 in the business model of the large publishing services such as ASI. The split is in the source of earned revenue—only 10 to perhaps 20% is produced from actual book sales and 80 to 90% is generated from the profits of selling marketing and publishing services to authors. The overwhelming majority of digitally published books released by various publishing services sell less than one hundred and fifty copies. The royalties earned by the authors rarely recoup what was paid to the publishing service for a packaged bundle of services of questionable value.

    Authors want to believe their books will sell thousands and thousands of copies. They don’t take the time to figure out the critical breakeven point of how many books must be sold to produce a return on the investment of several thousands of dollars they paid upfront to the publishing service. Selling a few hundred books won’t generate enough in royalties to offset what was paid out to produce their digitally printed on paper book.

    There isn’t an ebook bubble. There are two solid ebook platforms built by Amazon and B&N with their direct publishing programs. They dominate the ebook market place because they account for approximately 95% of all ebooks sold. This can be attributed to the fact that they have the greatest selection of ebook titles by a wide variety of authors. These online mega ebooksellers have made it easy for authors to upload their content and for consumers to download ebooks directly into their ereaders. The majority of the ebooks are priced within an affordable, consumer-friendly span that’s less than $10. The price of the ebook is established by the author, and the author earns royalties up 70% paid monthly on every ebook sold.

    Keith stresses the need for ebooks to have wide distribution, but authors need to decide if it is it worth going through a publishing service to reach a shrinking 5% of the marketplace, giving up a percentage of ebook royalty payments to a service that’s doing nothing but processing royalty checks and eventually sending a check to the author months later. As the author and publisher of nineteen ebooks I fail to see the benefits of going through a publishing service to reach a fringe market with such a small percentage of ebook sales. There’s no way I’m going to turn control of my Amazon and B&N publishing accounts over to a publishing service to take a slice of the profit pie that I’ve created.

    These fringe area ebook vendors have made it difficult for authors to publish with them by requiring an ISBN identifier—Apple requires ebooks to be uploaded from a Mac computer. The ISBN requirement means purchasing numbers from R.R. Bowker or going through a publishing service that supplys an ISBN which identifies the service as the publisher of record—not the author. There were valid reasons for ISBNs on printed books to identify the publisher of the book and to distinguish between various print formats listed in Books-in-Print, which was the industry reference book of new releases for bookstores and libraries. Amazon and B&N assign free unique alpha-numeric identifiers to ebooks publish through their direct publishing programs. It makes no sense to purchase a meaningless number when the identifier assigned by Amazon and B&N is used to account for earned royalties attributed correctly to the sale of ebooks.

    Authors are becoming more aware of the opportunities provided by Amazon’s and B&N’s direct publishing programs. They are beginning to ask publishers and publishing services hard questions about specifically what are the direct benefits from their services to increase sales of the author’s book. They want to know how many books must sell to recover the cost of the marketing efforts. They want an explanation of what is the service doing to earn their percentage of ebook royalties after the ebook is uploaded to various vendor websites—I just love the misleading pitch that tells authors they are paid 100% of the net royalties without informing them what percentage of the gross the net really is.

    In addition to taking a percentage of anywhere from 10 to 50% of authors’ earned royalties, some services are beginning to charge an annual fee for maintaining the authors’ ebooks on the Internet. Amazon and B&N have excellent publishing programs that are easy to use and are absolutely free, and don’t charge authors for uploading their ebooks or for maintaining them on their websites. More importantly, they both earn their profits in the traditional way of publishing by selling ebooks.

    There is a clear and present danger that the bubble will burst. However, it won’t be the evolving ebook branch of the publishing industry. It will be the artificial bubble surrounding the publishing services overcharging for services of questionable value and tacking on needless fees to enhance the corporate profits.

    It was interesting reading Keith’s reference to the first ebooks being cave paintings fulfilling primitive needs of humankind to communicate. Actually it was telling stories around the fire pit that were the earliest forms of group entertainment and a form of unrecorded history. Much later in the eons of time, the stories where captured in writing and many centuries later reproduced using letterpresses with moveable type. I touch upon this in the opening of my ebook titled, “Profit From Sharing Your Stories When You Publish Ebooks Through Amazon and B&N,” which is one of the ebooks in my popular “Ebooks about Ebooks” series.

    The future of publishing is clearly in ebooks. Ebooks are easy and cost-effective to produce, which makes them affordable for more consumers to read on reasonably priced ereaders. Authors have the potential to earn significant royalties paid monthly and they retain all rights and editorial control. Ebooks provide authors with endless possibilities to express themselves, and the true merit of their efforts is decided by consumers voting with purchasing dollars. The Digital Age of Publishing has empowered authors because authors create the content and they have the ability to take their epublished efforts directly into the massive Internet marketplace.

    Indeed, we create and publish in interesting times.

    Enjoy often… John

  8. Posted June 19, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand why someone would want to go through a publisher to self-publish. I’ve self-published ten books so far, have several that stay consistently on the Amazon best seller lists, and I did it all myself. What value does a publisher add to the process? Formatting and uploading is easy, I have a cover artist for the art work, and by doing it myself I maintain control of the process and keep all my royalties. Getting ISBNs is a pretty simple process. There are people who will upload to Apple for a minimal fee, or you can do it free through Smashwords.

    Anytime you pay someone else to publish your book, you’re getting involved in “vanity publishing.” That’s not the same as self-publishing. I’ve made over $70,000 in a year of self-publishing, and I haven’t had to pay a dime so far to do it.

  9. Simon de Pinna
    Posted June 19, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Tori says: ‘I don’t understand why someone would want to go through a publisher to self-publish. … What value does a publisher add to the process?’ As a publisher (and less successful author than Tori), for most manuscripts I’ve read the answer is horribly clear, good editing and proofreading!

    I don’t what quality control system Tori uses, but perhaps her books would have sold even better had they been professionally edited and proofed :-)

    I’d certainly like to hear from ‘self-published’ authors who have paid for the editing services offered by your publishers: do you think your books have been improved? Money well spent?

  10. Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Utilizing a publisher to either publish or assist publish releases the author from the investment of time. Time to learn the processes, time to handle the issues that come up during the process and the increased likelihood of presenting a quality product to your readers. If I download a book to read that is full of bad grammar, misspellings and plot discontinuity I do not look for another work from that author. When that happens the author simply loses. At WoolysWagon.com I provide options for the author. As an author, I understand the investment made in a manuscript and my goal is to present it in the best way possible. Utilizing someone else’s expertise to improve or present your work is not vanity publishing. It is making sure you are viewed as a professional and shows you are serious about the quality of your work. I can be contacted at robin@woolyswagon.com for more information.

  11. Posted July 27, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Tori has a point but she also fails to see the ‘point’. I should say first that she could be an exception to the general rule that applies to self-published authors. Her ability to do the formatting, designing, uploading to Amazon has nothing to do with sales. Yes, she keeps everything after the standard retailer’s cut from Amazon. Having assisted over 300 authors get their books published, there a few things that authors like Tori and most self-published authors miss. It pays to be associated with a major self-publishing company like ASI (or other comparable publishers) due to their connections and potential opportunities that come with it that you won’t get usually by doing everything yourself. In the case of ASI for example, their connections in Hollywood allow their published authors earn from deals arising from adaptation for film or TV with producers. I’ve been observing closely and since last year alone I can name a dozen of their titles that did well in these respect. To mention a few, ASI’s Internet Dates from Hell by Trisha Ventker was optioned to Paula Wagner of Chestnut Productions, Shadow Warrior: A Mystery Thriller by John Meyer was optioned to Fred Craig, Hush by EM Blomqvist is now in production by Thruline Entertainment and FuseFrame along with A Game of Hide and Seek by Irene Farrimond; Searching for Sassy by Alyson Mead was optioned to Tagline Pictures for a TV series, Humberto Garcia’s Mustang Miracle is being considered by Travieso Productions for TV, etc. I can go on and on. ASI has received 230 log requests from various producers for over 150 published titles. What am I saying? Connections! Take a look at their partnerships division as another example. HarperCollins’ Thomas Nelson has a deal with ASI for their self-publishing imprint which the latter is managing. It’s relatively new but 5 of its titles already was picked by Thomas Nelson (3) and Zondervan for traditional publishing. ASI’s current deal with MVP or Merideth Vieira Productions allow the latter to review all independent book reviews done by Kirkus, BlueInk, or Clarion and even coverage, treatment, or screenplay if facilitated by the former. If MVP considers the title for film or TV adaptation, that makes the ASI author a winner. They had similar arrangement with Principal Entertainment, Blacklight TransMedia, etc. Last week, Pearson acquired ASI and will gradually integrate ASI to The Penguin Group. As I write this, friends of mine inside ASI told me that they will send a list of titles for review by Penguin.

    Knowing how to do everything yourself is a good thing but don’t feel too good about it to dismiss the potential opportunities of having your book published by a reputable self-publishing company. Yes, ASI may have hundreds of notable and successful authors but that pale to the actual number of authors who published with them: 150000. Still, some opportunities afforded to the priviledged few will arguably be unavailable to them should they published with another company or did everything on their own. ASI’s Lisa Genova for example was rejected over 30 times before she published with ASI her first novel. Lo and behold, professional work was done with it and it became a New York bestseller prompting Simon & Schuster to pay the author a million dollars for her book rights. And by that way that’s right, hundreds. I know that as a matter of fact. I’m a keen observer.

    For aspiring authors out there, I would also recommend Smashwords. They have about 30 bestsellers in iBookstore and poised to do well in the months to come. Amazon may be a behemoth in the industry but I won’t recommend giving them exclusive rights to sell your ebook. When you’re self-publishing, take note that it’s not a trial-and-error approach. Be ready to spend a lot to make sure your work is professional done. If you’re self-publishing with SmashWords for example, make sure you hire a really good editor, cover designer, and even a layout artist to do everything right the first time. I have tried ASI’s BookTango and it’s easy to use as well. SmashWords’ meatgrinder is considered outdated by those who are good at this stuff but apart from that, the platform is excellent to start with.

    Good luck!

  12. Posted August 6, 2012 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Once again I’m going to refer people to this list of indie authors who have sold more than 50,000 ebooks: http://bit.ly/yzEG90.

    It’s not a complete list, but does demonstrate that a lot of writers have made it on their own – and probably made more money than had they been traditionally published.

  13. SMN
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I’ve been wading through self-publishing and e-book sites trying to compare. I’m a bit daunted by Amazon com’s percentage slice on author takings for e-books, especially since they want exclusive rights for about 90 days and can only be read on Kindle. (I hate the way the big brands are fighting to sell e-readers at the expense of their writers.) However the publicity (if you get it) is really useful. I find it hard to work out where I might get slugged down the track after signing up too.

    I would like to hear more about what happens with Amazon.com but I gather that those who sign contracts are not permitted to discuss.

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