Online guide book policy

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Introduction | iPhone Apps | eBooks for Us | eBook current state | Book Industry Trends

Introduction

Technology has now improved since 2008 (when I first created this page) and we have found ways to create more suitable file sizes for digital versions of our books, sizes might still be as large as 50M but not the original 500M plus that they were. Sounds great but theres a catch. Once I looked at the sales numbers, I found for most of our books we can only afford to produce one version of a book. So what is the single format that ALL walkers can use? Currently its a printed book.

Let me explain, overnight walking guides (most of our books are such) only sell in small numbers. Most of these books sell between 300 and 500 copies a year. A minimum commercial offset colour print run is 3000 to 4000 copies - the more pages in the book, the larger the print run needed to make it commercially worthwhile. You can now work out why walking guide books in Australia last for 6 to 10 years before there is another edition. You can also see why very few books get multiple editions - authors write a book hoping to make a decent amount of money then get disappointed with tiny yearly cheques and just drop it (authors get a maximum of 10% of selling price, work it out $30 x 500 x 10% = $1500 per year, not much pay for up to a year of work). If we also produced digital versions, I am certain that for almost every digital version sold, that would be one less printed book sold. As it is not worthwhile printing any less than 3000 copies (for colour) we would probably have to drop the printed book completely if we made a digital version. In other words, sales numbers are so low that only one form of an overnight walking guide book is worth producing. Yes some book runs can be as low as 1500 or 2000 copies but they are black and white printing only - is that what walkers want us to do, return to black and white only. I suspect we would sell even less?

The other side of this issue is, if we go fully digital, which version, an ebook or maybe an iphone app or some other as yet to be determined format for the latest gadget!. For an ebook you will need a computer (yes most people have them so thats OK) but you also should use a laser printer as you will need to print hard copies - inkjet printing runs when wet so if possible avoid it in the bush. So ebooks are possibly feasible as most will be able to read them but disadvantages are lower quality printed output when walking (if you use your inkjet), and they will be carrying more weight as the paper is also heavier. Specialist versions to use while on a walk for google kindle and ibook etc are the same as iphone apps - read next paragraph.

iPhone apps

The other currently popular format I get asked for at the moment is an iphone app, well they are not ideal. Great gadget, very impressive and great potential for many applications but for bushwalking, they are not waterproof, the screen is fairly easily broken and also the batteries only last only a couple of days of use, not ideal for number one navigation device on multi-week walks in Tasmania! The Apple contract is also appalling as it gives all sorts of rights of the work to Apple including the ability to reduce the price without asking the publisher/author for permission. Also will iphones exist in 10 years or even 5 years time, the best gadget that all want then might not be made by Apple, think back 10 years what we had then - could you have predicted the latest popular phone would be made by Apple!  To avoid a non-working phone and not being able to use an app on a walk.some will say you should carry a backup book copy but as explained above, book sales for walking guides are already very low, if we did a digital version there would be no printed backup book to take! You could print one yourself but look at a stack of of copy paper and compare it to a printed book. As I see it, at the moment an iphone app is not worth considering, as surveys show that only 11% of ebook sales are for smartphones (apps) and at best ebooks are projected to rise to be around 25% of all book sales. So for 500 printed book sales per year, thats 125 ebook sales, which translates to 14 iphone apps per year, would it be worth all the programming work for an app for sales of 14 copies per year, I dont think Apple would be interested - also for us it would take less time to answer 14 emails a year with a detailed reply than write, design and edit an iphone app. Yes first year app sales might be higher but you must consider long term averages if you want the app to exist and be updated in the future. Maybe Apple iphones are here to stay (it you really think so buy their shares) but I suspect they will be another fad, next year there will be another better or cheaper phone made by someone else with less restrictive licensing. Essentially the same also applies to ebook sales - while some walkers would love an ebook version, the reality is that sales would be too low for it to be worthwhile doing - if the big publishers struggle to make a profit on ebooks for best sellers where they sell a million or more printed books then it should be obvious it is currently not worthwhile for any tiny guide book publisher with small book sales to take.

As I see it at present, ALL walkers can carry printed pages and they can be used without requiring other technology such as phones, batteries or electronic devices. A printed book is currently available to everybody (unless you are blind but then you have other problems with bushwalking) and at present it is the best version to produce for bushwalking use. If you want to carry less weight, then cut off the spine and carry just the relevant pages, you will be surprised at how small and light they are, in fact they are usually lighter than one spare set of batteries. Some dont like cutting books up, I dont see it as being any different from buying an ebook and printing just the pages you need, the end result is the same. If you dont like cutting up books, buy two copies, one for the shelf and one for cutting up to take on walks, increased sales would also help the publisher to produce the next edition earlier. Advantages of offset printing is that even if the pages get wet they can still be used, yes you need to dry them a bit but offset printing does not run like inkjet printing. Some have asked how to cut off the spine - get a stanley or similar knife, use a straight edge (timber or metal) and simply cut 2 to 3mm from the spine. Dont try to cut the whole book in one go, rather multiple cuts will remove about 10 pages at each cut.

eBooks for us

Its possible at some stage we will decide to produce some books as an ebook version but when we do that, the printed book will never reappear as its not worth doing both - once digital copies exist, sales of a printed walking guide book would drop in numbers to be under 300 per year and probably never be enough to be again worth printing. If we went digital, hopefully ebook sales would be around the same as before but if the ebook version did not sell well enough (at least 100 copies per year), then a possible outcome is that we might drop support for that book completely - essentially not update it with new information - if not enough are willing to pay for ebooks then we dont see why we should put time into updating them. Essentially we write books to help others enjoy the places we have seen, if too few want that help then why spend more than a thousand hours plus producing the information.
We have now spent some time researching how to create an eBook. While it initially sounded attractive we have found some significant problems for our type of books. The first is that many devices are still mainly text based and maps will tend to merge into an overlapping mass of similar toned lines. Couple that with the low resolution of 72dpi for images and graphics leads to maps that when they are printed out, fine text of 5 or 6 points can be so fuzzy that they are often unreadable. The image resolution in ePub files is designed to look fine on screen, photographs often print OK as jpegs 'invent' data to fill the holes and thus look passable but things like maps with fine lines and fine text are mashed. PDFs dont suffer from that probelm but most eBook sales are currently not in pdf format.  Essentially digital books have been designed for books that are primarily all text such as paperback best-sellers.

Ebooks - the current state

As for overseas travel guides where ebook guides are starting to appear, with a target market of hundreds of millions (Particularly the USA and Europe) rather than our tiny 25 million, they can have larger print runs (50,000 plus) and also do new editions more often. Also larger markets can support both digital and printed versions at the same time as they are selling thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands each year, not just hundreds. However, even in those much larger markets, only a small number of successful printed books are actually making a profit as an ebook. I have had private discussions with two publishers of outdoor books (December 2010). One (who many readers would know) has put many travel books into digital format - users expect more than just pdf files as they want interactive navigation, the text had to be added to and reorganised, many links and indexes had to be added and maps redone and linked to the text so they could be zoomed in and out, link to other maps etc, this requires programming, not just text writing. The total cost was just over $100,000 for each book, a large investment, with prices of $10 (less commission and author fees means the publisher would get around $4) they would need to sell an extra 25,000 digital copies of each title just to pay for setup costs. Another smaller publisher is putting one of their guide books into an iphone app, much of the work was done free by the authors but even so it still cost the publisher more than $10,000, he estimated if he had to pay wages for the development, it would have cost close to $100,000 and that would have put him out of publishing. With such high setup costs and with walking guide sales in the hundreds per year it should be obvious to all that it is simply not worthwhile. Any digital books we produce will have to stay with simple navigation (probably simple PDF files) as anything else is simply too expensive. Yes, with my extensive programming experience, I can write the code myself but I am not prepared to spend an extra years work writing code for a handful of walkers - at the moment I prefer to spend more time walking and less on the computer. Currently we are considering providing one online ebook and see what the response is, I suspect we will not sell many copies. As for providing all our books as ebooks for free - after reading my page about copyright you might understand why we would not bother and instead stop writing and just walk for ourselves if we were forced to provide ebook versions.

There is another potential problem of going digital as sales would inevitably fall once ebooks are put into public online libraries where many could get it for free (or nearly free) - it would then not be worth doing another ebook edition at all..Yes you can borrow a printed book from a public library now but thats not quite the same as everyone instantly accessing a libraries contents over the web - national libraries in many countries are currently working at how to put their entire digital collections online. Most readers will not know that you have to give the national library a free copy of every book (both print and digital books) which they can then loan for free. Digital sales do work for some books but its currently the minority - most publishers have not yet returned a profit on most of their digital ebooks and will find it even harder to do so once the libraries complete their online projects. There has been some discussion about libraries charging for online borrowing and paying the publisher but it looks like being a few cents to the publisher for each borrow, not the couple of dollars the publisher would get from an ebook sale. As an example, in Australia under Public Lending Rights for printed books, authors currently get about $1.30 per year for each copy of their printed books in libraries (regardless of how many times its borrowed), less than what they get if one reader bought one copy! Work it out, if we sold an online book for say $10 and the library 'loans' it for something less than $1, which will most readers get. Then with 500 book borrows for a few cents each, would you create a digital walking guide book for a cheque from the library somewhere between $10 to $100 each year? There are some methods like DRM that restricts how many copies libraries can loan but users and libraries dont like DRM etc.

Printed books are not perfect either. Disadvantages of a printed book are the expense for us to print (we would like to avoid that but digital actually costs more!) and they also have to be stored and posted/freighted to places. They also they get out of date as its many years between editions but that can be partially overcome by providing online updates. Advantages of printed books are they are less wasteful of ink and paper (provided you need hard copy) and you end up with something tangible that may be worth keeping. Surveys of users of kindle and other ebook readers have shown that almost all users of these technologies still buy printed books as well so even those using the latest technology still prefer printed books for many uses.

Book Industry Trends

Some interesting aspects about books and publishing have come from the Book Industry Strategy Group report that was chaired by Barry Jones and released in September 2011 (a government report). It shows that printed book sales are remaining fairly steady, more than what many expected. There is a slow increase over the last decade but its slightly smaller than the inflation increase which means in real terms it is dropping slightly - not a drastic sales drop but if a business plans on increased sales then static growth can be disastrous as we have seen with some book chain collapses. Digital book sales are expected to grow dramatically but reading the fine print shows that while the most optimistic estimate is it will rise from 1% to be 25% of all book sales over 4 years, the average estimate is it will probably only rise from 1% to between 5 to 15%. While significant, it is clear ebooks are not going to completely replace printed books. With current ebook sales of 1% it also explains why most publishers cannot make a profit from ebook sales. Those who want ebooks make a lot of noise on the web but the reality is not many of them actually buy ebooks! An even more interesting and alarming part of the report shows that the mean author income from books has decreased from $23,000 in 2001 to $11,000 in 2008 - you can see that authors are poorly paid. The report comments that the booksellers, distributors and publishers are paying authors less as they want to increase their profits and use the extra costs of creating ebooks and digital production as a reason to pay authors less. As an author and self-publisher we can verify that this is indeed the case as the bookshops and distributors keep asking us to take less and less while retail prices remain the same. If this trend continues then authors will either simply give up or 'cheat' more when writing a book. A blatant example of cheating was an infamous travel guide to a south american country which was written by a person who had never visited the country - with decreasing author payments such incidences can be expected to become more common. Essentially the industry is forgetting that authors already get the lowest pay of anyone in the book system, paying them even less will probably result in more cheating and less authors overall - the bookshops, publishers and ebook sellers have forgotten that without authors they dont have a business!. The report comments that reduced pay to authors has forced many into self-publishing but for most this does not work either as the report also comments that 40% of all publishers (mainly self-publishers) are effectively locked out of the national book distribution system. The future looks bleak for authors as the retail and distribution part of the book industry is dominated by big business - authors are individuals and will always be 'small' business and hence are unable to bargain for a fair return. As an example, comparing mean income shows that an editor now gets paid about 7 times what an author gets - this does not look very fair. Personally, we have seen this pressure on authors to accept less pay as a well-known publisher we once used to work with asked us to work for less pay and at the same time commented in their newsletter that they did not understand why most authors were not writing more than one book for them to publish. Essentially they could not see that they already paid the authors peanuts and were reducing payments even more to the state of stale peanuts - authors could not even cover travel costs on the income they were being given and were leaving to earn a living elsewhere.

2016 update - The bookshops are reporting that in the last year sales of all books has been steadily increasing. Shop owners tell me that the increase seems to be mainly from young adults. It seems that some of them have become disapponted with online content and want writing that has been researched properly, has been edited and is well writtten. While some free content on the web is very good, the reality is that much of it is poorly researched, has not been edited, often has notable errors or sometimes is simply mis-leading. As its free it should not be a surprise to anyone that web writers generally don't put in the extra effort needed to polish their writing. So that is the good news of 2016. Another 2016 issue that effects all writers is that the Productivity Commision has put out a draft report to recommend that the federal government reduce copyright to either 15 or 25 years maximum plus make some other significant changes. To some users it initially sounds good but it would end the careers of many writers as they would earn much less than the average $11,000 they get now. This is not rocket science, less income means less time to write hence less books and a loss to the community. Canada recently changed copyright laws and the result was many less books written by Canadians and some major publishers closed down permanently. The changes put more books in the $5 bargain bins but reduced the number of good books that the public wanted. Their market is now flooded by books that not many really want, how is that increasing productivity - beats me. The federal government is now considering the Productivity Commission report so who knows what they will implement. Lets hope it does not happen here. If copyright is shortened to 15 years, many of our books will be free for anyone to copy so we will have to consider stopping writing and publishing as others will be able to reprint our older editions. While we could still publish, if our sales got cut in half by a copy (with our name on the cover - that what copyright free means!) many of our our books would run at a loss. I will be surprised if any of the copiers would rewalk every walk (or even any walk) and update the imformation and as printing costs will not change, its unlikely for prices to drop much either.. The result will be either no books or guide books with very outdated information, I suspect that like Canada, many walkers will not be very happy with the end result.

Your thoughts on the above are welcomed as digital books and current trends are issues we regularly look at and the thoughts of others are welcomed. Should we keep printing books as we have done or simply stop printed books completely and go digital only as some seem to want. Maybe it will all get too hard to sell books in any format in the future when copies will become available in libraries very cheap or free and authors get paid less and less!. The alternative then is for us and other author/publishers to stop producung walking guides (and other books that have only small sales) and spend more time in the bush. I know that to some copyright seems selfish, but its not, you may find my page about the history of copyright interesting! Without some way for an author (and publisher) to maybe get a fair return for their efforts (there is no guarantee there will be a profit), most books would never be written or published and the public would not get the opportunity to read and share the authors knowledge and thoughts.
 
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 Last updated : November 23rd 2016