How “eLibraries” Work Today – And How They SHOULD Work


Despite the boldness of the title, I’m not too sure that I have the best solution here, but the way it works for most libraries is simply daft.

Regular old “dead tree” books are typically purchased for the recommended retail price or less by a library, who then make an electronic note every time a book is rented out. Each rental equals pennies, or in some parts of the world, a fraction of a penny, which then finds its way usually once a year back to the publisher and, ultimately, author.

Fair enough. That’s the system we’ve had for years, and by and large, it seems to work.

But ebooks tend to operate in a very different way, and I don’t think it’s very fair on libraries or readers. Partly because it’s based on the old “dead tree” paradigm: namely that each library can only have a finite number of copies.

Ebook “rentals” are currently like how video rentals used to be in the glory days of Blockbuster (may it rest in peace). Video stores used to get access to movies a good 6-12 months before the general public. When a film was available to the public, it maybe cost say, £10-£15 in the UK. But the rental pre-release was some £60-£150 pounds. A lot of money. The video rental company would have to guess how many copies they might need, and pay that much for each copy. In return, they only had to pay a fraction of the rental price back to the studio, and could pocket the rest. After all, they are the ones taking the risk and buying the videos at great cost in the first place.

Then, after the movie Titanic, things changed. James Cameron made sure that Titanic was released to the public at the same time that it was available to the professional rental market. So the video rental business only had to pay the same price as anybody else for that video. However, it meant that the video rental companies had to give the movie studio a much larger percentage of every copy rented. Soon after, everyone copied the business model. It worked better for all of them. Less risk for rental companies, and more revenue (if the film was good) for the studios.

Obviously streaming ate the video/DVD/Blu-ray rental business’ lunch for other reasons in the end, but that’s not the point of the story. The point is when it comes to ebooks, things work on the same floored model as the old VHS rental market of the 80s and 90s.

Currently an “eLibrary” buys (at a much higher than retail price) a set number of licenses for ebooks. Then they pay a tiny amount of each license rented, that goes back to the publisher. It’s bad for customers, (if your chosen ebook is currently being rented out to 10 people, and the “eLibrary” you’re using only has 10 licenses, you’re going to have to wait, just like with a traditional physical book), but it’s also bad for the “eLibraries”: They have to guess how many licenses to purchase in advance, and risk lots of money. Libraries aren’t exactly organisations with an abundance of wealth.

So an idea I had, was to do to ebook rentals what Titanic did to the video rental business. Allow “eLibraries” an unlimited amount of licenses. No charge. But each time the book is rented out, the small fee that ends up in the publisher’s hands is slightly larger. A popular book gets more, a less popular book gets, well, less.

Amazon is in certain ways already doing this, with an aspect of its Prime service. As an author who makes use of it, I can tell you that – for me and many of my readers at least – it works.

Could we see this rolled out in more ways? I really don’t know. I say let a thousand business models bloom, and the best will stand up on their own. But I’m sure about one thing: the current broken model shouldn’t be allowed to last.


The Growth of Short Stories

Books PileThe ebook revolution rolls on.

We have seen the discovery of fantastic new writers who, because they were able to self-publish and get their work out digitally, have managed to achieve commercial success through the new meritocratic medium. But it’s not just authors themselves seeing success. It’s different types of books doing well too.

There’s strong growth in romantic and erotic fiction these days. And if you think about it, it makes sense: we can’t see the cover of what you’re reading. The old “embarrassment factor” of these books goes away. That almost certainly explains part of the success of the Fifty Shades novels, for example.

But regardless of genre, what’s really interesting is that short stories have seen a real boost. Amazon’s Kindle Singles account for a fair percentage of the overall market on the world’s biggest platform.

It’s great to see short stories get the coverage they deserve. For quite a while there wasn’t a good business model for them. The magazine publications of short stories are now few and far between, with editors unable to commission anyway near as much work as they used to. And for paperback books, there’s a serious problem with economy of scale. Making a 50-page book doesn’t cost much less than a 500-page book. But you can’t sell it for much less. Any why would people pay the same about for a short story as a long one?

But when it comes to electronic distribution, it doesn’t matter whether something is 50 pages or 500. You can still make money by selling it at the price you think it appropriate. There can still be an economic case for publishing. And what an exciting new wave of possibilities for new writers. Vive La Short Story!

Getting over “Writers Block” – Writers different solutions

Writers BlockYou may have already read my take on writers block. Readers still write to me about that article saying they either love it or hate it. Some say it’s too flippant. A number of very touching ones say that they’ve been waiting for someone to put it into words like that and now they no longer fear the blank page. Two have even told me they’ve got it printed out on their walls!

Well other writers have very different takes to me, and so as a festive gift, I thought I’d leave you with a link to the views of some of them. This is a post from about this time last year from the Writing Cooperative on Medium, on how the editors of that fine publication try and “get over” writers block. Some of these people would almost certainly disagree with my stance, but I found their views really interesting, so I thought you’d like to read them for yourselves. Happy holidays!

Elmore Leonard – The Grand Master

Here’s another couple of videos from the CFA. I posted some from Lee Child a few months back.

Here, in his last in-depth talk and interview before he died, is the legendary Elmore Leonard. I honestly enjoy his work more than almost anyone else. His style is so simple, that it is easy to overlook just how sophisticated his storytelling abilities are. I don’t fully agree with everything he’s ever said on writing, but when he speaks, it’s always interesting.


To attract a large Audience, be a Selfish Writer

WritingYes, here we go again: another plea to be a selfish writer. I know I’ve banged on about this a number of times, but I only do so because it’s the biggest hurdle to so may writers.

It’s like we have this in-built mechanism to try and please others. I get that. I have it myself. But you have to try and make that feeling go away as much as possible. Write for yourself.

Author or works such as Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut once said: “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

Yeah, he had a way with words. I’ve worked as a radio broadcaster for pretty much my whole working life. A professional presenter knows they’re talking to one person, and phrases their response accordingly, in a subtle way. Statistically the vast majority of people who listen to the radio do so alone. Talking to “you all out there” makes the show and alienating experience, the opposite of what you want. Writing as per Vonnegut’s advice is similar. Pretty much every reader does the activity alone, unless you’re maybe reading a bedtime story with your kids.

It’s about writing for yourself or for one person — never write for the sake of following a trend. Strunk and White spelt this out very poetically in Elements of Style: “Start sniffing at the air, or glancing at the trend machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.”

Don’t write what’s “hip”. Write what you love. If you write it with passion and energy, chances are, you won’t be alone: others will feel that way about the work too. If you write what you feel you “should”, then that energy and enthusiasm could well die out. If you don’t really care about the work your writing, why will any reader?

Is it worth Writing when you don’t feel like it?

Blank PageThe blank screen. The blinking cursor. So much possibility. But as you put your fingers to the keys… nothing.

We all get situations where we don’t feel like firing up the laptop and typing away. If the “muse” is not there, is it okay to put your work aside and wait for the “muse” to return? Or should you persevere?

I’ve written before how you can fight through “writer’s block”. But the question I’m posing here is should you fight it?

It depends on a single question: are you writing for fun or work?

If it’s a hobby, then what’s the problem? Nothing happens if you don’t deliver. If it’s for work, you need to get it done.

But even if you write for fun, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more fun than the exhilarating feeling of making progress with your writing project.

Keep persevering and working through your trouble. You’ll be amazed at how a little push and reap dividends.

Learn to Let Go: Working with an Editor

Keys on a keyboardCongratulations! You’ve got a publishing contract! But now, you have met someone called an editor who is going to work with you to get your book ready for publication. What do I mean by ready? Isn’t it already ready? Isn’t that why you sold it to, say, Penguin/Random House or HarperCollins?

Sadly no. It’s only now that a lot of the work begins.

An editor is the crucial second pair of eyes, dedicated to making a good book a perfect one. You need to learn to trust them. They only have one job: making your book the best version of itself.

But haven’t I always told you (more than once) to be selfish in your writing? Absolutely. But that stage is done, and now it’s time to move onto the publication stage. This is the stage of collaboration, and yes, compromise. But it’s all for the greater good of the finished piece.

The biggest challenge is that it requires you to be less protective of your “baby”. Let go of the strong emotional connection you have to the work.

But keep a copy of the finished piece you handed in to the publisher in the first place. That is draft one, and no one will ever take it away from you. But now it’s time or teamwork.

I have to be blunt about this: If you can’t trust your editor, then you either need to walk away from the deal or get the publisher to find an different editor. And in most cases where this rift has taken place, it’s not the editor at fault. And most publishers know this.