Tim Wohlforth: Publishing and E-Books

Tim Wohlforth, fiction and nonfiction writer for more than forty years, resides in Ashland, Oregon where he spoke to Ed Battistella’s History of Publishing class April 11, 2012.  Tim’s fiction novels are mostly crime and mystery based, two out of the four mainstream fiction categories – the other major categories being romance, sci-fi, and classic literary fiction.  Tim spoke to the class about the statistics of major publishing companies, e-books versus printed books, and finally about the problems that arise with self-publishing.

With advancements in technology, people in the last decade have been able to enjoy their favorite books and new books a different way: electronically.  Kindle and Nook sales increased over 100% in 2011 to about $969 million.  Also in 2011, total book sales – electronic books, scholarly books, etc. – rose to about $11.6 billion.  Meanwhile pocket books decreased by about 36%, which Tim claims, “[It] appears to be a category fading out and replaced by quality paper backs or e-books.”

After introducing the statistics of the sales in the electronic book industry, Tim presented information about publishing: big publishing companies.  There are six major publishing companies, also known as the six American Publishers, who publish approximately 96% of books globally; they are Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Penguin Group, Random House, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster.  Of the major publishers, 18-22% of all their sales come from e-books; Amazon’s market share has fallen from 90% to 60%.

Tim also shared statistics of American readers who use e-books.  In America, about 17% of adults ages 16 and older have read an e-book within the past year.  These e-readers “are people who read a lot, about two or three times more than the average person.”  Something I found to be incredibly interesting was when Tim mentioned about 29% of people have read an e-book on a cell phone within the last 12 months!

Tim concluded with the downsides of self-publishing.  In small publishing unlike in large publishing companies, there are no agents and an author’s book is not necessarily guaranteed good distribution in bookstores.  In bigger publishing companies, an agent is present to ensure that an author’s book gets distributed in popular bookstores.  Another downside of self-publishing are the extra costs.  A book cover ranges in price between $90 to $250, and the author should also higher a free-lance editor and an agent.  For Tim, the main problem with self-publishing is that, “there isn’t a need for a filter/gatekeeper in the entire publishing experience.”

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