The first version of the first iteration of Apple’s iPad will be in customers’ hands this weekend. Not in mine, unfortunately. I am quite eager to get one in my hands, and that eagerness is increasing as the iPad’s release draws nearer, but it is not a burning desire. In addition to my personal desire for the device is my professional interest in it. Among its many features and capabilities is its functionality as an eBook reader and store. As you know, I am a publisher. If I were a publisher with any capital to speak of, I’d already have a slew of devices to test my eBooks on – Sony’s eReaders, Amazon’s kindle, and Barnes & Noble’s nook, at the least. I don’t currently have any such devices, and simply hope that my eBooks look alright without ever actually seeing them on a dedicated device. (I’ve seen them on my iPhone, and on my iMac in a variety of preview softwares.) The Apple iPad is a device that many people see as “a game changer” for eBooks, and I agree (though I’m not convinced it will be via the iBookstore that eBooks are revolutionized).
Until a few days ago, it was unclear what terms Apple would be accepting publishers to offer books through their iBookstore; only a handful of major publishers had announced any deals. Then more publishers began putting out press releases about their agreements with Apple. I didn’t see anything coming out about small press and independent publishers making deals, or any official process for applying… but then I got an email from Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, notifying me that Apple and Smashwords had reached an agreement and that qualifying Smashwords titles would be available in the iBookstore on April 3rd (ie: at launch).
In addition to the existing requirements for “Premium Distribution” from Smashwords to its partners (including Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, and Amazon), in order to be distributed to Apple, each eBook needs its own ISBN (and Smashwords would gladly provide free ISBNs that list Smashwords as the publisher, or $10 ISBNs that list the author as the publisher), needs to be available in the ePub format, and needs to have a cover image at least 600 by 900 pixels. No problem on the cover images; all mine are print-ready sizes. No problem on the ePub format (well, except that Smashwords doesn’t allow some of the nicer features of the format, such as chapters / Table Of Contents), since I always convert to all available formats. I also own an hundred ISBNs, and assign them to my print books, audiobooks, and eBooks, as I create them.
One thing I haven’t been doing is assigning ISBNs to the individual short stories I’ve been selling through Smashwords and on the kindle. For book-length works, I’ve assigned an ISBN to each version I’ve made available for sale. But at the rate I bought them, back in 2007 before single-ISBNs were available in the US and buying 10 ISBNs was over $300, I paid roughly $1200 for 100 ISBNs. I’ve just looked it up; I can now buy a block of 1000 ISBNs for $1000. Sigh. My ISBNs cost $12, so it seems difficult and expensive to assign them to individual short stories. If my ISBNs had cost me $1, it might seem less terrible, but spending another $84 to put the seven short stories I’ve released individually from More Lost Memories (which I’ve been pricing at a reasonable $0.99 each)… and of which I’ve only sold 15 electronic copies (that’s total, across all 7 stories) since making them available a year ago, netting me $6.09. Let’s do some math: In order to break even on selling these stories via the iBookstore, based on the $0.99 price each and the 60% royalty rate, I’d have to sell 142 copies of these stories to iPad users. On the other hand, the market value of my ISBNs is now less, and if I pretend they’re only worth the current market price, then it would be easy to expect to earn out the $7 worth of ISBNs… sigh. I suppose I ought to have been depreciating the value of my ISBNs on my taxes, after all.
So … I’m resigned to go ahead and assign the ISBNs to the individual stories, I suppose. Hopefully it won’t wreak havoc on my ability to show a profit this year. Between the More Lost Memories stories and the short story & essay collection I hope to put out this summer, I’ll be using about $200 worth of ISBNs just for the individual short stories. If you’ve read my recent posts on sales & income, you’ll know this is … not a small expense. It isn’t something I have to pay right now, but because of the way I’ve been accounting for my ISBNs (as a pre-paid asset), it counts as an expense against this year’s income. I have some plans/ideas for covering expenses better this year, some already in motion, but this ISBN thing may make things more difficult.
Then there’s the iPad development costs. Basically just the $99, since I’d do all the work myself. That’s not including the cost of the iPad… which wouldn’t be a strictly business purchase, anyway. But I’d like to do some work … really, I’ve been meaning to develop for the iPhone, as well, but have been putting it off. Having finally reached a point of not feeling perpetually behind on already-completed projects (which has a lot to do with my decision to take a step back from the Art Walk & other habitual activities & re-evaluate my path) I think I may have time to work on some of the projects I’ve had in mind for the last year or few. Things like narratives that tell a different story depending on how you hold them or where you are, or the ability to allow readers to interact physically with a story… in ways I won’t try to describe here.
…I’ve lost track of things here, somehow. I’ve been staring at this post, slowly adding to it, for the last six or seven hours, actually. I think I missed half my point. I can’t recall what it is, now. I’m quite tired. Actually, I started watching The IT Crowd on Netflix instant when I set down to write this, thinking it would be nice to have a little something on so I wasn’t sitting alone and in the dark and in the quiet typing… I started on the first episode of the first series and I’m now on the last episode of the last series. It has been much better than I’d originally expected from the brief description, but I’ve been laughing most all the way through it. The show has been quite distracting. I’m sure I’d have struggled & wandered a bit in this post, but not for as long as this. Sorry. Let me try again, more succinctly:
I want an iPad or two. I want to see my eBooks on the iPad. I’m excited to be able to sell my eBooks in the iBookstore. I want to develop for the iPad (&iPhone). I’m not burning with desire for the device (nor do I have the money, really, right now), so I’m planning to wait a bit before getting one. (When the iPhone came out, I didn’t run out & get one right away. I patiently waited, then ran out the day after the price drop & bought one for $200 less. Depending on which comes first, a price drop or an upgrade…) I’ll probably go into the local Apple Store next week to molest try out an iPad – part of my hesitation is in not ever having had a chance to see and touch the device; $500+ is a lot (for me) to spend on something sight unseen.