Kindle-less and e-reader-less, I'm just starting to learn about electronic publishing, even though all of my novels are available as e-books.

I attended an e-publishing panel at our inaugural California Crime Writers Conference during the weekend of July 13-14 and it was fascinating. E-publisher Marci Baun, e-published pioneering author Marilyn Meredith, and Poisoned Pen acquiring editor Annette Rogers were all there to give their take on the future of digital books.

Some stuff I learned:

1) Formats. There are at least eight and more e-publishing formats out there--Adobe PDF, Microsoft Reader, HTML, Kindle (which bought mobipocket software), etc. Recently the Association of Digital Publishers have chosen a standard format--"epub"--and wants all their members to comply. Apparently epub has conversion issues but offers a lot of features. Like the battle between VHS and Betamax in the video age (remember way back then?), who knows which standard will catch on?

2) One million iPhone readers. There's a iPhone e-book reader application, Stanza, which has been downloaded at least one million times. We've been so fixated on the Kindle, but actually the iPhone may be more of a dominant force. Watching the popularity of the novels written and read on cell phones in Japan, I suspect that it is only a matter of time before this phenomenon catches on in the U.S.

3) Barnes & Noble and e-publishing. In spring of this year, B&N acquired e-book publisher Fictionwise. So they are also posed to be a major player in e-publishing wars.

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Comment by I. J. Parker on June 26, 2009 at 8:05am
Wow, thanks Pepper. Excellent suggestion. I'll need to talk to my agent about this and related matters. She's also groping in the dark about the current situation. Nothing much we can do about past contracts, I assume.
Comment by Pepper Smith on June 26, 2009 at 4:58am
Fictionwise is an online e-bookstore primarily, although I think they do republish out-of-print works, etc. Maybe they do some straight publishing as well, though I hadn't heard they did that. I've had work up on there before. It's always cool to see your books selling next to some of the big names in the genre.

E-publishers have been saying for a long time that there needed to be one standard format to make sales easier, something that would work on a variety of devices. If they've finally settled on one, that's a good thing.

IJ, with most e-pubs, the contract is limited to a certain length of time, and is renewable at the end of the period with consent of both parties. I think with the big houses, your agent can insist in the contract negotiations that if the ebook version doesn't sell above a certain number of copies per year once the paper version is out of print, the rights revert to you. It's something to discuss with your agent, anyway. Otherwise, they'll probably hang on to it, as you say, as long as they can occasionally sell a copy.
Comment by I. J. Parker on June 26, 2009 at 4:14am
Thanks. I forgot about the conversion issue. This may be a major one for authors since e-books essentially don't go out of print.
I recall that this surfaced when I let Amazon Shorts have one of my short stories. I wanted to know how long I was tied to the contract and was told that generally no more than a few years were involved. I think this translates into: "as long as we can sell an occasional copy."

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