E-Book ‘Em, Danno!
By Adrian Hunter
Reports of the demise of the e-book are greatly…accurate.
Two years ago, publishers watched in horror as horror fans download 400,000 copies of a digitized Stephen King short story. They figured they were about to get Napstered (in which customers abandon traditional atom-based entertainment products like compact disks for fast, free online bytes) after barely recovering from being Amazoned (in which customers abandon traditional atom-based retail outlets for online stores). They were both nervous and giddy over the prospect of getting rid of the printing process while maintaining a pricing structure that values new hardcover books just south of tickets to The Producers.
They were wrong.
Electronic versions of popular culture are a tricky beast to tame. Playback is the key; it’s easy to turn a computer into a decent stereo, but nobody reads TV, which is how e-books work today, given the paucity of dedicated devices that work as well as paper for the display of rows of tiny type in a form factor that fits in your pocket.
And it turned out that the market for literature not worthy of immortalizing on dead trees was about the same size as the market for proprietary content on the Internet in general (i.e., nonexistent), which led to the demise of dozens of companies like MightyWords that specialized in selling electronic text.
In other words, the professionals say that e-books are just another dot-coma sob story…shut down the web site, cue the pallbearers and sell the Aeron chairs on eBay.
They were wrong, too.
E-books are going to be a huge success in specific categories where paper is actually a liability. Let’s see, what kind of reading material do people not want lying around their coffee tables? Three guesses, starts with a “p”…
Pornography is the perfect field for e-books, especially in categories that appeal to niche audiences like my chosen specialty, bdsm. Before the Internet, commercially-available bondage novels were limited to The Story of O, Anne Rice’s genre experiments, John Norman’s Gor series and seedy F.E. Campbell potboilers sold exclusively in adult bookstores. Dog-eared photocopies of treasured tomes were surreptitiously traded by aficionados, which presumed the reader was brave enough to join the local knitting circle in the first place.
Distribution options increased exponentially with the advent of Amazon and other online storefronts that provided a much higher level of privacy for people who wanted to read quality fictionalized accounts of their favorite obsession. New imprints quickly filled the void with dozens of distressed-damsel titles that could be shipped in ye olde plain brown envelope.
Today, you can’t swing a bullwhip without cracking it against some great bdsm porn. But just because it’s easier to read bondage books doesn’t mean it’s easier to get them published. Either we sell our 100,000 carefully-crafted words for fractions of a penny to traditional bookmakers who handle printing and distribution, or we give them away for free on the Internet.
Enter the lowly e-book, and its digital cousin, print-on-demand (POD) services. Instead of playing “pitch ‘n pray,” writers can sell their stories as e-books directly to an audience that’s often willing to put up with the inconvenience of reading text on a PC monitor in exchange for the cloaking capability.
Of course, this isn’t exactly easy. First, you have to have an audience, which implies you’re pretty good, and you’ve published a few pieces to prove it. In this case, posting stories on newsgroups or web sites absolutely counts. The goal is to develop brand awareness in which your byline is equated with “erotica worth paying for.” Besides, if readers don’t like your tail tales when you give them away, what makes you think a publisher is going to pay for the privilege of trying to sell them? Giving away samples helps seed the search engines, too.
Second, you have to put together an e-commerce operation in which you convert your masterpiece into an appropriate format like Adobe Acrobat and program the software to collect the fees and deliver the goods. It’s not rocket science, but it’s definitely fiddling with liquid hydrogen. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll have to hire someone who does, or (insert vicious circle) work with an established purveyor of similar works who will naturally exact a significant percentage of your profits for their services.
Third, you have to actually sell your e-books. Perversely paradoxical as it sounds, the best marketing ploy is to make the electronic version available as traditional paper-based one, hence the earlier POD reference.
By self-publishing your pornographic novel through a 21st-century vanity press such as Xlibris.com or ImprintBooks.com, you tell the reader that the e-book they’re buying is a “real” book and not some shady “paid content” drill (the difference between The Wall Street Journal and Salon). A paper-based book also establishes a higher price ceiling, so the $7.99 you charge for the e-book looks like a heck of a deal compared to $21.99 for the trade paperback.
The real paradox is, you’ll probably sell one “real” book for every 20 e-books, which is just dandy since the per-copy net is higher for the enhanced-electricity version versus the inky tome.
There are upfront costs involved. You will have to pay the POD publisher (a minimum of $100) and the credit card processor (up to 20 percent of each transaction). But you can cut corners by using an advertiser-supported web host such as Yahoo! Geocities and subscribing to Adobe’s Acrobat conversion application for $9 a month instead of buying the software for $250.
Yes, it can be a hassle when readers have problems downloading files (hint: immediately send them the e-book via an email attachment…to be successful on the Internet, you can’t afford any unhappy customers). But the benefits of controlling your own destiny and reaping most of the profits definitely outweigh the downside of becoming intimate with CGI scripts.
Hey, your DIY labors might even catch the eye of an established publisher. Since you didn’t sell the rights to your book to anyone else, you’re free to sign on the dotted line.
Under any circumstances, selling your own e-books sure beats beating the bushes and/or begging. Then again, bondage authors are experts at those particular sports, not to mention related perverse paradoxes like pleasurable pain. Like we say on Usenet, YMMV (your mileage may vary), but at least you’re the one who’s driving.
Adrian Hunter began posting his fiction on the Internet in 1993. Four years later, he compiled his stories on a web site, AdrianHunter.com, which has attracted more than a million visitors. In 2000, he was the recipient of the “Best Bondage Writer” award from SIGNY. He has published two anthologies of his short stories, Crash Your Party Dress and Something Just Clicked, as well as a full-length novel, Once Bitten, with co-author Chelsea Shepard. For more information, please visit http://www.adrianhunter.com, or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.