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The Ebook Maze Today

I’ve been taking a shot at figuring out the current state of the morass of ebook publication this week.

One basic distinction is that some ebooks are in encrypted formats with DRM (digital rights management) and some are in the so-called Multiformat, which means a non-encrypted format such, for instance, a simple Adobe Acrobat PDF file. John Siracusa has a fairly long (7 page) article about the history and future of ebooks, giving some background. More useful for authors is a nice survey of electronic publishing on the site of SFWA (the Science Fiction Writers of America), complete with very many useful links.

Today Troy Wolverton has an interesting article in the San Jose Mercury News about the growth of DRM ebooks in, unfortunately, incompatible formats. The problem is that different styles of DRM are likely to be used on the four ebook-reading devices: Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, Apple iPad, and the Barnes and Noble Nook. Some of the existing DRM styles are Mobipocket, eReader, and Adobe EPUB.

Of course you might opt to read your ebooks with some simple reader program that can live on your computer or your smart phone—and in this case you wouldn’t want or need to get the DRM protected ebooks at all. But if have to use a DRM version, the eReader format can be read by using a free downloadable app that runs on pretty much any machine…so you don’t need to buy some proprietary hardware.

A not-exactly-related issue has to do with how much authors get paid when publishers sell their books in ebook format. Some of you may have heard that there was an argument about this last week between Amazon and Macmillan Publishing.

Some are floating the suggestion that there might be a 3-way split of 33% each for author, publisher, and distributor. Charles Stross has an interesting essay that touches on this idea in connection with Amazon’s recent (failed) showdown with Macmillan about ebook prices.

As for commercial ebook versions of my novels…here’s what I’ve learned lately about my own ebooks in print—I posted some of this in a comment a few days ago, but I thought I’d use in this post.

It was quite hard to unearth this information by the way. One question I might throw out there right now is this: is there any site which will search the entire web for all possible ebooks by a given author?


HYLOZOIC, THE SEX SPHERE and SPACETIME DONUTS can be found as ebooks on the Barnes and Noble site. They can also be found, with SPACELAND as well, on the two eBook sites and Fictionwise …on these sites you have to do a Search for “Rudy Rucker” to find my books.

HYLOZOIC, SPACELAND and THE SECRET OF LIFE are available from the Diesel ebook distributor, and from Powell’s Books.

I don’t really know why the different sites list different books.

It’s perhaps worthwhile, though maybe self-defeating, for me to mention that one can in fact get some ebooks for free in pirated form. If you can figure out how to use it, and are comfortable with stealing intellectual property, the pirate bookz channel of the Undernet has pirated e-versions of a few of my novels, although not all of the ones mentioned above.

By the way, if you hunger for an honest, printed, paper omnibus edition of SOFTWARE, WETWARE, FREEWARE, REALWARE, this will be out from Prime Books at the start of April! You can pre-order it now from Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

And there’s no need to look for a pirated version of POSTSINGULAR as I myself posted a free Creative Commons version of it online a couple of years ago. Cory Doctorow talked me into it—he claimed it would help my sales, which didn’t really seem to happen for me, although a lot of people did download the book, and I was happy to see it getting out there. It’s not like I’ve ever made any real money from my commercial ebooks so far…

One topic I’d like to throw out there for input…suppose I wanted to sell some of my older books as ebooks myself—my older books don’t necessarily have ebook clauses in their contracts. Is anyone doing this? What are some good routes? Is it worth the hassle? Can you get listed on the big ebook distribution sites?

At this point, one thing to keep in mind is that the ebook market is quite small, and there is very little money to be made by ebook versions of anythign other than best-sellers. I guess the topic interests me because it’s an aspect of my typical-for-an-author desire to stay in “print”.

It looks to me as if none of my non-fiction books are available as ebooks. And among the novels, I don’t see ebooks of the Tor titles: MATHEMATICIANS IN LOVE, FREK AND THE ELIXIR, AS ABOVE SO BELOW: BRUEGEL, or SAUCER WISDOM. Among the books with other publishers, I don’t see ebooks of HOLLOW EARTH, ALL THE VISIONS, MASTER OF SPACE AND TIME, or WHITE LIGHT. I might dig out the contracts for these books and possibly produce ebooks of those whose electronic rights are unencumbered.

But at some point worrying about this can use up too much time—it starts to feel like trying to build my own gravesite monument in the waning years of my life, years that might be better spent walking in the woods…

Another topic that I’ll only touch on briefly is—royalties. Some of the more grasping and retrograde companies are trying to hold the royalty line at the paperback rate, something like 7 and a half percent of the ebook’s retail price. Others are offering 10 or even 20 percent of retail price. Or, again, I’ve seen the figures of 20 or 50 percent of the net, which is the amount the publisher actually takes in for the ebook. Most writers feel that, since there is essentially zero cost for producing an additional ebook once the file is prepared, the royalty should definitely be higher than what we get for paper books, which do cost money to produce. Nobody yet knows where it will settle down.

9 Responses to “The Ebook Maze Today”

  1. Alex Says:

    Why not published your books as ebooks yourself?
    You have the layout software (Indesign).

    That way you would get 97% of the retail,
    (paypal would take 3% assuming you use them to process the payments)

  2. John R. Douglas Says:


    Michael Stackpole, in the blog on his website, has written a number of times on the subject of self-publishing e-books and if you follow the threads you can see many of the arguments for doing so along with what amounts to a template, or at least a step-by-step process, for how to go about it.

    John Douglas

  3. bkd69 Says:

    I think I’ve got the ebook nut cracked:
    Treat Tim O’Reilly, Eric Flint, and Gabe Newell to a long weekend in a hotel suite. This should result in a piece of software, like Steam, let’s call it, say, Vapor. You’ll wind up paying $x/mo for borrowing privileges of y titles, each of which you have to keep for a minimum of 30 days before you can swap one out for a new title (see also: Safari Bookshelf). It will also allow you to purchase titles outright, at whatever price point gets worked out, and the software will handle reformatting it to whatever devices you have, ala vuze, or other video downloading software. It will also handle delivery to print services, if that’s your pleasure, ala photo printing services.

  4. emilio Says:

    Isn’t the more important question: will eReaders, iPads, etc. enable a new paradigm in writing? Will they spawn a generation of Thuy’s creating new forms?

    Or maybe some old long hair will take it on?

    Will “graphic novel” take on a new meaning? Seems the likely first shot.

    I’m pretty sure as you’ve noted that the eReader/eBook market is really more hype than substance at this point. Something new needs to turn it.

    I can see some universities publishing all of their text books as eBooks, but beyond that there is nothing compelling in this marker. None of the eReaders are that great yet and can’t get readers excited. They fail on fundamental ergonomics, at least so far — it will be interesting to get one’s hands on an iPad to see if it is a game changer.

  5. starryeyes Says:

    e-books are pretty new to me too. Mostly I’ve just downloaded old books from the Gutenberg Project:

    The info on this blog opens up new possibilities for me to read your books. Thanks. 🙂

  6. Rudy Says:

    Percent of what? I just saw an interesting post about the issue of the BASIS of ebook royalties. Usually paper book royalties are on the basis of the retail price, so you might get 7% of the cover price. And until recently it was typical that you’d be offered 10% of the suggested retail price of an ebook. But with ebooks it’s now becoming common that you are offered a percentagle of the “net amount received by the publisher” per book, partly because the price of ebooks is so fluid. The net is often about half of the suggested retail price, or less…so 20% of net is like 10% of retail price. The net might be even lower, so it’s not usnusual to be offered 25% or even 50% of net. But some people like this poster are suspicious…

  7. Alex Schoenfeldt Says:


    I read above that you didn’t think your free version of Postsingular helped your sales, and maybe it didn’t, but it did just help your sales of the Hylozoic ebook by one. I read and enjoyed the Ware books, which lead me to Postsingular, (all free) which lead me to buy Hylozoic just now. I look forward to reading it.


  8. Nek Says:

    Read the article. Going to buy Hylozoic ebook in a minute or two.

  9. Nek Says:

    It’s a pity it’s impossible to buy the book in epub format outside of the USA.

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