Okay, some more about e-books from SFWC and beyond...
I guess I'll start with some more about Smashwords 'cuz Mark Coker (founder) was at the conference (the presentation audio and slides can be accessed via Mark's blog). Smashwords has been around for about a year, and claims to have published 387,372,989 words as of tonight. They list 16 fiction categories in their catalog, and ten in non-fiction (including poetry ... which strikes me as kind of odd, actually ... I'm thinking W.B. Yeats, "Who Goes With Fergus," for whatever perverse reason ... or Ovid ... or ...). 3,567 authors. 7,807 titles. As I wrote in my last post, the drill is to upload electronic manuscript and Smashwords converts it ten e-book formats, then lets the author set a price.
So one of the questions that's begged here is whether people buy e-books. Another has to do how an author ought to set a price for her/his work.
Do people buy e-books? The jury hasn't been fully polled on this one, as far as I can tell. According to Mark Coker, about 2.3% of the market last year was sales of e-books. Jeff Bezos of Amazon said last month that where both e-books and printed formats are available, 6 e-books are sold for each 10 paper copies. E-books seem to be an impulse buy (cheap, easy, fill up your nifty new device). Coker's nifty graphs showed wholesale e-book revenue coming in at $100M in 2008, and an estimated $200M in 2009. E-books, Coker says, are "the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry." You get published instantly. You never go 'out of print.' You can publish at any length (short stories, a poem, a 100,000 word novel).
Some of the most provocative ideas Coker put forward had to do with pricing. For example, he suggested that higher prices may encourage piracy: if it's cheap, why go to the trouble of moving a file from one device to another, just download another for cheap? (I will say, in counterpoint, quoting a certain sophomore at UC Berkeley who will remain unnamed in this blog, that "college students never pay for downloading music" ... and if that's so, the "people don't share e-books" trope is probably not far from myth).
But this was really interesting: in a (very small sample size) experiment in which books were offered for whatever a consumer chose to pay -- where free is an option -- 85% didn't pay anything. But. 15% did, and they paid an average of $3.20 (a $3.00 mean for the statisticians out there). When you average out the price paid among those who paid nothing and those who paid something, the figure came to $0.49 per copy distributed. Coker's suggestion: that's not so bad at all if you can get your book read, which is often an author's principal goal ... and it's lucrative as anything if you can get it read widely. His rhetorical question was a little, well, rhetorical, but when he asked who would take $0.49/copy if they could get a million readers pretty much everybody in the room put their hand up.
One of Coker's best soundbytes was this: "An author's enemy is obscurity not piracy." That's worth a second thought.
Smashwords, of course, is not the e-author's only option. Scribd publishes your electronic manuscripts as web pages. Amazon lets you publish for the Kindle. (And there's the print on demand universe too, through avenues like LuLu.com; the ubiquitous Amazon through their subsidiary, CreateSpace -- now incorporating what used to be BookSurge; or another SF Writer's Conference attendee, AuthorSolutions.)
Food for thought.