Update on True’s Book Compilations

I’m getting more and more mail asking about this, and I’ve been dropping hints here and there that something’s up. So it’s time to give you the skinny on where things are with True’s book collections. Exciting things are happening!

Part of the original design of True was to publish a book each year compiling the stories. We’re coming up on 18 years of stories …but only six books have been published. Part of that was the huge amount of work it took to publish a print book, and part of it was the huge up-front cost in doing the setup, layout, printing, shipping, and storage of thousands of copies of each volume.

Logistical Nightmare

As we got more and more into publishing books, I practically needed a small warehouse to store them all. (Really: a commercial storage unit, which added more cost.) And that was with just six books. What would happen when I had 12, 18, or 20 titles? Yikes. Publishing ground to a halt.

Meanwhile, I could see (murkily, at least) into the future: True has succeeded very nicely since 1994 because of electronic distribution. Meanwhile, we’ve seen print newspapers dying, some of which have switched to online-only. Bookstores, too, have been dying, while “book readers” — electronic tablets optimized for reading text — have been selling like mad. It’s too late for True to be a pioneer in publishing its books electronically, but obviously that’s the future of publishing, even if some people would rather read from paper pages.

Print Readers Are a Dying Breed

Just last week, a report was issued by the Pearson Foundation that notes that for the first time, at least among college-age students, a majority prefers electronic over printed books, for both textbook reading and pleasure reading. That’s huge, and the numbers are telling:

  • 70% have read digital textbooks
  • 68% of high school seniors have too
  • In just the past year, tablet computer ownership among college students and college-bound high school seniors has tripled to 25%
  • 35% of those with a tablet computer also have a dedicated ebook reader
  • two-thirds of them believe that ebooks help them study more efficiently, almost that many think they perform better in class thanks to ebooks, and about 80% agree ebooks makes learning “more fun” and enhance learning
  • two-thirds of them believe that ebooks will replace printed textbooks within five years. I agree.

Look, I’m a long-time writer and a publisher, and I get that printed books are great. But I literally can’t afford to continue to publish True’s books in print. The trends are clear, and the demand is huge: people want my books, and the only way I can effectively deliver them is on the platform that people want more and more every day.

Print Publishers Are Lying to Us

Oh, and let me use this opportunity to discuss cost! A lot of printed book publishers are justifying selling ebooks for the same cost as printed books (though sometimes they charge slightly less, and sometimes even more!) They say that really, there is no cost savings to ebooks over printed books. As someone who has been publishing printed books since 1986, let me say this clearly: any publishers still saying that are liars.

While there is definitely cost involved in training and software to start to produce high-quality ebooks, it’s just not true that it’s cheaper to lay out paper books, print paper books, warehouse paper books, ship paper books to stores at a 40-50% retail discount (and then accept returns of unsold copies), and liquidate unsold copies when a book is no longer popular, than it is to issue that title electronically.

I’ve got several thousand bucks sunk into developing what I need to publish True’s books electronically. That compares pretty closely to setting up, printing, and shipping to my storage unit 3,000 copies of one volume of the True collection. I’m expecting to publish at least ten volumes of True books by Christmas. Heck, it’s possible I’ll get all 18 out by then. And other books, too, such as a special one on Zero Tolerance and what the trend says about schools (and society). And how about an Honorary Unsubscribe compilation? I’d never try to print that book, but I’d be willing to publish one electronically. And, and, and…!

“But I Don’t Want a ‘Book Reader’!”

Don’t have a book reader or a tablet, and don’t want one or can’t afford it? That’s OK, because you do not need one to read an ebook. You’re reading this on a computer, and you can get — free — software to read ebooks on your computer too (and your smartphone). (Useful article: How do I read a Kindle book if I don’t have a Kindle?)

As I said, I get that some people prefer paper over screens. Yet I’m finding I greatly prefer reading on my ebook reader now. If I have a choice, I read on my Kindle, or on my Android tablet using Kindle software.

Sometimes, even when I have the paper book, I actually prefer to buy it again on Kindle so I can read it from my reader. Why? Because it’s lighter than a book, I can search it, I can pick up where I left off using my phone if I find myself stuck in a waiting room for an hour, and (very importantly, as my eyes age!) I can set it to make the print larger.

That, too, is a huge leap forward that should appeal to older, tech-resistant folks. (Yeah, I’m getting older, but I’m certainly not tech-resistant! 🙂

That doesn’t mean you’ll prefer ebooks (though I predict you will, just like I found), but frankly, you’re not going to have a choice. It’s because of that lie from print publishers that this is true: it’s so much of a cost savings — tens of thousands of dollars even for a little publisher like me — that the trend will happen. Actually, it is happening. Add in that growing number people who try ebooks and actually prefer them? Well, that’s why it is happening.

So the bottom line is, the alternative to ebooks isn’t paper books, it’s no books.

That’s All Theory: What About True’s Books?

OK, straight answers.

First, cost: when True’s books first started publication in 1995, they were $11 plus shipping. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Inflation Calculator, $11 in 1995 dollars is $16.43 in 2012 dollars. So what are True’s ebooks going to cost in 2012? Just $9.99 or less (and probably less) — and there’s no ever-rising shipping cost for ebooks. And that bottom line is proof positive that the print publishers are lying about ebooks costing the same or more!

Second, schedule: there have been several leaps forward (and a few agonizing setbacks) in the work to bring True’s books out in electronic format. The back end software is all in place. I ran into a brick wall (read: found a need for a function I hadn’t anticipated) earlier this month, and a software update was delivered last week to fix that.

I commissioned new cover art, and that just came in (latest draft shown below). I don’t yet know exactly when the first batch of books will be published, but there will be five of them — volumes 1-5, covering True’s first five years. The bottom line: I anticipate that (barring any further gotchas) they’ll be out by the end of March. I … can … hardly … wait! (And I know a lot of you are chomping at the bit, too, if my mailbox is any indication!)

What About Instant Printing?

True’s first volume of stories.

I know that leaves a few questions, like what about instant printing? Yes, there are solutions for instant printing that produce really high-quality books, churning them out as few as one at a time. Awesome technology!

And yes, I’ll have those available for those who really, Really, REALLY refuse to give up paper. But you need to know two things. First, the actual manufacturing cost of instant-printed books is double or more what traditionally printed books cost. I don’t know what the sales price will be yet, but they’re clearly not going to be $9.99, or even $11.

Update: even with the doubling of actual cost and the results of the BLS calculator, the instant-printed books will have a $17 cover price. In other words, about the same price, adjusted for inflation, with no factoring for the actual costs being high.

Will True Books Be Available in “All” Ebook Formats?

I’m starting with the by-far-number-one platform: Amazon’s Kindle, so the books will only be available there at the start. But yes they will be available on other platforms too, including Apple’s iBook, Google’s Android bookstore, and more. It’s unclear which specific outlets will be included in “more,” but I anticipate serving 99+ percent of the market …which Kindle plus Apple plus Google might actually accomplish.

I’m certainly aware of B&N’s Nook, the Sony reader, and others, including more players that haven’t yet emerged (for instance, will Microsoft want to play in this space? I’d be surprised if they didn’t!)

When? I don’t know yet, but for sure at least weeks. I don’t know what kinks need to be ironed out yet, so I don’t know what it will take to move on to other formats/vendors.

So there you go. This is True book collections: coming soon, and at a cost significantly lower than in 1995!

Any questions?

18 Comments on “Update on True’s Book Compilations

  1. I knew when you started talking about getting the books into print again that it would be electronic format.

    Can’t wait. I’ll be getting all of them eventually. I’ll also be looking forward to whatever other collections you make.

    Everything you said about print publishing was spot on. And I worked at a Borders store right up to liquidation. Still love the feel of books, and I won’t be getting rid of mine anytime soon, but I can see what’s happening.

    Thanks. I love books, even the smell of ink. Yet “what’s happening” isn’t bad. Just as printed books spread knowledge to a new group of people, ebooks will spread knowledge to another group: everyone! -rc

  2. Any thoughts about preorders? 🙂

    Heh! Once it gets into Amazon’s system, yeah, you could preorder. But once I’ve got it into their system, you’ll be able to get it right then. -rc

  3. Randy, have I told you lately that you absolutely rock?

    Yes, I love the feel of a book in my hands too and even the smell of ink (my late father was a printer-compositor, so I definitely grew up knowing what ink smells like!), but publishing is a dying art!

    So, my friend, rock on!

    Publishing on paper is a dying art, yes. But publishing in general is simply a changing art. I haven’t seen numbers, but I’d guess there are more books than ever being published — just not on paper. As long as there’s a mechanism to help sort the quality from the (well) crap, that’s a good thing. (And at least Amazon does have such a mechanism with its review system.) -rc

  4. I mainly use Kindle and Kobo for ebooks. Kobo made a lot of English language books available here in Germany even before Amazon did. And their store here shows the price in euros (including VAT) rather than dollars, like the Kindle store. So please consider them too. (They use the standard e-pub format.)

    That’s on my list. Thanks! -rc

  5. This is great! I hope that you are going to make them available in the ePub format. It works on multiple platforms, including both the Nook and the Sony reader for sure. (I’ve had both of those). I think it also works on anything that can use android and I think can be sideloaded onto the Kindle, but I don’t have personal experience with those.

  6. I think that I can say with certainty that paper publishing is not going to completely die for a very long time. There will be a market for it, just like there’s still a market for vinyl records. Will it be mainstream? No. Will they cost more than they do today? Maybe (probably).

    Definitely. But of course with reduced demand will come higher prices, which is of course why I noted the TRUE books will be available in paperback, but not for the old price. -rc

  7. I’m one of those who resists change JUST for the sake of change. I prefer books. Once I’ve bought a book, it’s mine. I don’t have to worry about WHERE I can read it, or WHEN. And when I’m done, I can keep it to read later, years later even. However, I’m not a technophobe and times do change. Vinyl did get replaced by CDs. VHS did get replaced by DVDs. But after spending ALL that money to replace VHS with DVD, then they tried to convince us that DVD was dead, and we needed to spend all that money again on Blu-ray.

    RIAA would STILL have you spend all that money on CDs, whether you want all of their selections or not, and are painfully reticent about embracing MP3 technology. That which has been accepted is rigged to only work on one playback device, and if you discontinue your subscription, you lose ALL of the music you’ve purchased.

    On the other hand, there are very compelling positives to technology and change. Only a limited number of vinyl records were ever stamped, and when those sales dwindled, the excess were destroyed, never to be printed again. Now, those have been remastered, due to the cheaper cost of CDs, and the wider marketing range of the internet. Old out-of-print vinyl is easier to obtain than ever, thanks to CDs and the internet. I foresee the same with books. Cheaper cost will bring back lower volume sales of out-of-print oldies.

    I’m only reluctant to put a substantial investment in my own collection of ebooks until such self-defeating issues of changing media, exclusivity of market, and restriction of personal usage have been resolved. Let’s face it, technology does reduce cost, and that lower cost makes more selection available to the consumer, as well as cheaper investment. It’s the sluggish juggernauts of publishers who are also resistant to change that I’m waiting for.

    It was true, back when Apple pioneered sales of music to digital devices, that you could only play that music via that service (you could always upgrade your device, and the music would transfer over). But that changed years ago: everything you bought way back then is now available with no copy protection and you can, if you want, transfer all your old “Apple music” to (say) your Android phone for playback whenever you want. I anticipate this will be true of books at some point too: “locking in” to (say) Kindle won’t mean that your books are all dead and gone if, in 20 years, Amazon goes out of business because of some competing technology. -rc

  8. I wish you the best of luck, Randy. I understand that self-publishing is a dance with wolves.

    Yeah, true. On the other hand, publishing with a Big Publisher is getting in bed with a carnivorous insatiable grizzly — who insists on being on top. -rc

  9. I was born in the same year as True, and I HATE ebooks. Something about the feel of pages in your hand, the paper smell and rush of air as you thumb through the pages of a new book for the first time, the way you can see and feel how much more of the book you have left… It’s exhilarating in a way that ebooks simply aren’t. That said, I fully understand the reasoning behind publishing digitally, and I feel like something like a True collection would work well as an ebook.

    Happily, you’ll have the choice. -rc

  10. “Second, they’re going to be printed versions of the ebooks.” Randy, don’t you mean, “there are going to be printed versions of the ebooks”? And if there are similar Spelling/Punctuation/Grammar mistakes in ebooks, I assume that those mistakes are cheaper to put right that reprinting a whole ton(ne) of printed books?

    Huh? There are multiple volumes of books. They (plural) are (plural) going to be available as printed books (plural) too. Thus, they’re — they are — (plural) going to be printed versions (plural) of the ebooks (plural). What Spelling/Punctuation/Grammar mistake are you seeing in that? -rc

  11. Have you read Joe Konrath’s blog on publishing? He has a lot of interesting point on the topic of ebook price, and talks about it extensively. Yeah, he’s a bit of a blowhard at some points… but he’s also been very successful. And he provides decent data to back it up, and explain his experiments.

    I know you put a lot of money into creating the stories and now e-publishing the book, but you should consider at least experimenting with price as he suggests. You’re an excellent author and produce a quality product, but I’m not sure a lot of people outside your audience would buy it at $9.99 without really knowing you. (You could also try a lead-in book at a lower price, and keep the others at $9.99. Get people hooked, then jack up the price!)

    Just a thought, and hope you don’t take offense; I’m not trying to suggest your work is not worth $10.

    Not offended; rather, I appreciate your heads up. Funny, but I read “blog” in your comment as “book” and went and found his book (“The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing”) which is apparently a compilation from the blog — 1400 pages of “outdated and contradictory” material (says one reviewer) that “Needs proofreading and editing!” (says another). I have no doubt that there is good material in there, but I don’t want to wade through 1400 pages of varying quality trying to find it. True value isn’t the author’s knowledge, per se, but rather in the work put in to find the gems and throw away the rest. He didn’t do that, so no wonder he only charges $2.99 for it. Meanwhile, I do put in that work to find the gems gushing by in the “weird news” firehose; that’s pretty much what I do every week.

    Meanwhile, there is a top-notch ebook expert in my mastermind group (not counting me: I’ve been publishing books since 1986), so I’m not worried about making a huge mistake here. I’ve sold many thousands of TRUE books, and expect to sell many thousands more. -rc

  12. Good on you Randy for making the leap forward into the ebook age.

    I got a Kindle reader about two months ago, and I have to say it’s fantastic. I’ve got about 60 books on it so far, and they’re very easy to read.

    I don’t use the Kindle software to manage what’s on it, though — I use Calibre ebook software. It has the added advantage of being quite happy to manage ebook files in many formats, and will convert them to suit whatever device you want to load them on to (provided you remove the DRM first, which may or may not be legal in your country). I think my ebooks so far have come from about four or five different sources. My biggest source so far is Project Gutenberg — I’m catching up on all the old classics that I’ve always wanted to read, but didn’t feel like shelling out $15-$20 (the going price for a paperback here!) for a hard copy.

    I haven’t bought any recent publications yet, though — probably because Amazon & other resellers charge us about 40% more here in Australia than if we were in the US (try it, change your country in your Amazon account and check the pricing. Ebooks that are $9 in the US are $14 in Australia, even though US$9 is about AUD$8.60 right now).

    Well that sucks! I had no idea. It’ll be very interesting to see if that’s the case with my books too. And thanks for not including the word “finally” in your first sentence! -rc

  13. Roll over Gutenberg, I just felt a paradigm shift.

    Figures it would take a rocket scientist to nudge me into modern literacy technology.

    If money were no object, what technology would I buy to maximize reading your new “books” in the bathtub? Will libraries be distributing the material and, if so, in what format?

    I currently own no smart pads, phones, toasters, etc. as I am a very poor person who spends all her discretionary income on gasoline, helping needy pets (and their people). The community comes up with food and I’ve got enough tschotkes to last a lifetime.

    Ultimately, what is is worth to me, a private reader, to peruse a digital book? An annual payment of taxes toward a library levy? $9.99 to Randy? Do I need to invest in a gadget that gets updated every few years just to stay literate and in touch with the world? If so, which gadget?

    Can I get Technology Insurance to help replace my gadgets as they become obsolete faster than I can pay for them?

    Thank you, Randy, for all the giggles and outrage you’ve provoked in me over the years, and best wishes for your new publishing venture.

    A paradigm shift indeed. More and more, you won’t be able to find printed copies of the books you will want to read. Must you have a tablet or book reader? No: you can read books on your computer. But lots of people (including me) don’t want to read off a computer screen for fun, or even for education — we spend enough time looking at computers. So if “money is no object” there are ebook readers. The cheapest Kindle reader, at the moment, is $79 — and I’d guess that price will continue to drop over time. I have both a regular “e-ink” Kindle and the new $199 “Fire” — a tablet optimized for Kindle books (see comparison of all Kindle devices here). As noted, there are other options, too, such as iPads and smartphones, and competing ebook readers. Kindle has more of that market than all the others combined, though.

    If you get one, will it last you forever? Maybe, but I doubt it. We hadn’t even thought of such devices 5 years ago, so what will happen in the next 5 — or 10? Good luck finding tech insurance!

    The bottom line: if money is tight, get the free PC or Mac software — you already have a computer. If you have $100 you’re willing to spend on a device so you can read new books, go with a Kindle. -rc

  14. Normally I am all for tech advance and the internet age. In fact before it become standard I was trying to figure out why things like games/movies/music/books weren’t sold digitally. Then when they did start selling I didn’t buy. Sorry, but I am NOT paying the same price for a piece of data as I would a physical copy. Particularly not if it is full of DRM(I’ll still buy such media, but I feel it is worth ‘less’ than a copy I can more easily do what I will with).

    However, I had a nightmarish realization with the book part of this. First of all a big fear of mine is that publishers will try and block library sharing with this. I am a big fan of libraries and anything threatening them is going to be fought long and hard. That said my library does have a digital distribution method for ebooks. Thus, I hope that fear is an irrational kneejerk rather than a logical conclusion. However, it is so far very limited, but that could be because the library is still testing the waters.

    The biggest part of the realization though is I found that I can’t read on digital devices for long. Even with new prescription lenses I suffer eyestrain after a while(and without them I suffer strain in T-minus 1 second easily). And I need to wear them to work and when I drive. Which leaves me not long at home before they bother my eyes. However, with a print book I can easily read without my glasses for hours and hours on end. In fact my eyes usually feel quite rested afterwords.

    Or basically as we go more and more digital and there are fewer print options I will find myself able to read less and less each day before I suffer eyestrain(I already do read a lot of digital, and suffer ugly headaches for it), particularly since my eyes are only getting worse. And I love to read :(.

    My one hope is that the E-Ink feature will help with that. Some friends have said that it really does help with digital screen eye fatigue which is really my core issue at the moment. Some said it may even let me read lens free! But It’ll be some time before I can justify the cost of something like that, doubly so since I am not sure I would be able to use it(that and I am rough with my devices and the kindle does look so durable to me)!

    I would say welcome to the digital age but I think, unlike many publishers/media folk, that you have been here for some time!

    And, again, I’m leaving it up to the reader whether they want ebooks (cheaper, sooner) or paper. -rc

  15. Dustin, libraries can offer digital delivery by use of the DRM — they implant an expiration date in the file, rather like the ‘rental’ downloads of videos.

    “In fact my eyes usually feel quite rested afterwords.” Afterwords! What a great pun!

  16. FYI: the Amazon DRM is optional; you (as the publisher) get a choice of whether to turn it on or not. So you can sell Kindle ebooks without locking your customers into Amazon’s platform.

    Yep, I know. Once it’s turned on, though, it can’t be turned off. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t compile another copy for my own shopping cart. That’s in the works. -rc

  17. Will these books be available from other sources besides Amazon? I stopped buying from them a few years back for personal reasons and would prefer to buy the books from another source.

    Yes. You’ll be able to get both ebooks (in both ePub and Mobi formats) and printed books through my shopping cart. I only just upgraded my ebook creation software to do that, and have to get up to speed with those functions. Once I get one set, the rest — of those currently published — should follow pretty quickly. -rc

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