It appears that major publishers are thinking about entering the world of ebook originals — books that are sold only in digital editions.
One such book that I’m aware of is The Rent Is Too Damn High by Matthew Yglesias, published by Simon & Schuster. It’s just too short (about 64 pages) to be worth printing and distributing. On the other hand, Sam Harris’s Free Will (which I will report on before long) is just slightly longer, and it is available as a paperback for $9.99. Pretty expensive for the amount of content! His essay Lying, which I talked about here, is available as a Kindle single, which is a very interesting model for making short-form content like that available. (By the way, some authors do quite well with their Kindle singles.)
I can see the attraction to publishers of putting out their authors’ shorter content as ebook originals — it makes the authors happy, keeps their names in the public’s consciousness, and eliminates most production costs. But now my friend Craig Shaw Gardner reports that he may soon be signing a deal with Ace to write one of his trademarked funny-fantasy trilogies as ebook originals. That’s a model I’m still puzzling over.
For the publisher, I guess the advantage is that it’s low risk. Their costs go way down if they don’t have to print, warehouse, and ship hardcopy books. Publishing becomes mostly a marketing effort (although they still have to create a cover and do their usual editorial work). If the ebooks become really successful, they can always come out with a print edition. But they’re giving up their major asset — their access to shelf space in bookstores.
For the author, I guess the advantage is that you get some money up front, and you don’t have to spend your own money on covers and other production costs. And conceivably the publisher can do a better job of marketing your book than you can on your own (although I have my doubts). But in return you’re giving up a large chunk of the royalties you’d get if you went the ebook self-publishing route.
Is it worth it? Ace and Craig seem to think so. So I wish them luck! Also, prepare to be entertained! I have read a chunk of the first book in manuscript, and I can say that, once you meet Bob the Horse, you will never forget him!