Kindle tests ebook cover design tool

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For indie authors who have been sweating blood over their ebook cover designs, there’s good news for a quick fix to this frustrating chore.

Digital Book World reports today that Amazon is developing a cover creation tool for its Kindle Direct Publishing platform for self-publishers. According to DBW, the KDP Cover Creator tool is now being tested by a limited number of authors, with full roll out expected soon.

Digital Reader, which broke the news in Nate Hoffelder’s April 3 blog, has screen shots of the beta version and some comments from readers who had tried it.

According to DBW, the Kindle tool will “come with access to thousands of royalty free images in an image gallery and will also allow for users to upload their own art. A variety of pre-programmed layouts, color schemes and fonts will also be included.”

 

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Library ebooks may actually generate sales

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Book publishers could be missing a lucrative boat with their efforts to curb free circulation of their ebooks through public libraries.

Traditionally, the publishers have treated libraries almost as parasites that siphon off sales with their free-circulation practices. Through a mix of licensing agreements, high prices and, in some cases, outright refusal to deal with libraries, the publishers have tried to restrict library circulation of their e-titles.

A new survey of 75,000 library ebook readers — conducted by Overdrive and the American Library Association – suggests, however, that they may be shooting their sales in the foot with their anti-library tactics.

As Michael Kozlowski of Good E-Reader explains, “the study confirms 57 per cent of people use libraries as content discovery engines. Patrons often will see a book and will end up making the digital purchase. Fifty-three per cent of all people surveyed have thought about buying an ebook listed on the libraries website and fifty-three per cent borrow ebooks and also buy them.”

About one-third of the readers actually buy the ebook to add to their personal collection after they have read the library edition, he says.

That’s hardly the profit-eating monster that publishers have long feared.

Bearing in mind that Overdrive and the library association have a horse in this race, the study suggests library ebook circulation may actually be an effective way to market the publishers’ new offerings.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I’m an enthusiastic borrower of ebooks from my public library. And I still buy way too many books – both in digital and paper format.)

Libraries could open portal to indie ebook exposure

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Libraries are finding innovative ways to circumvent the restrictions imposed by big publishers so they can enhance their ebook offerings for members. And there’s one recent trend that should be flashing on the radar of indie authors.

Good e-Reader reports that the Washington County Library System is reaching out to local authors, inviting them to submit their own novels in electronic format to add to the existing library system.

It is not alone.

The system developed its “Library Local Connect” program after hearing of a similar initiative in Colorado. It hopes to give worthy local authors some much-needed exposure, while at the same time beefing up its ebook inventory.

“We’ve always been very concerned about making everybody’s works accessible,” said Joe Manion, the system’s director of public services director. “What’s a little bit more difficult is to find the small author, the author who is getting started, the author who is local – but now we have the ebook revolution.”

By linking local writers and readers, they’re hoping to build a bridge to the next best seller.

The system has developed criteria to ensure the quality of submissions, and it’s working to improve the process with an automated submission tool.

Maybe this is something aspiring e-authors should discuss with their own local libraries.

Kobo launches self-publishing portal

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Kobo Inc. has introduced a new self-publishing portal for independent authors and publishers.

Unveiled at Book Expo America in New York today, Kobo Writing Life is designed to help writers become the best authors and publishers possible, the company said in a release. The platform is touted as quick and easy-to-use, with features that provide key reader insights and marketing tools to engage with fans on a global scale.

Currently in the beta stage, the portal uses industry standard ePub files, allowing authors to offer their self-published titles for computer, smart phone or whichever e-reader the reader may choose.

The company said authors will be able to use the self-service e-publishing portal at no cost, and will have control over all aspects of publishing, including price setting, advertising and marketing. Royalties are said to be 10 per cent higher than comparable self-publishing platforms.

“When we started working on Kobo Writing Life, the first thing we did was ask authors what they felt was most important in a self-publishing platform,” said Michael Tamblyn, EVP Content & Merchandising, Kobo. “They were incredibly clear: openness, control, great royalties, incredible reporting and global reach. It should be powerful but drop-dead simple. And there should be people running it who care about writers — not like dropping your treasured manuscript into a machine. We can’t wait to see what authors will do with this.”

Kobo Writing Life is being tested by 50 authors in its beta program. It will be available in English at the end of June for the more than 1,600 authors already signed up. Additional languages and country-specific support will be added in the coming year.

Writers who are interested in signing up for Kobo Writing Life are invited to visit www.kobo.com/writinglife.

IPG’s ebooks return to Kindle Store shelves

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Publishers Lunch reports that the Independent Publishers Group and Amazon have reached an agreement that will end a three-month standoff over sales of the distributor’s ebooks in the Kindle store.

The dispute, which began in February, saw about 5,000 IPG titles removed from the store. Although details were not made public, IPG has said it objected to proposed terms that would have substantially reduced authors’ earnings.

The standoff affected only IPG’s ebook titles. Amazon continued to sell paper versions of IPG’s books throughout the dispute.

IPG was established in 1971 to represent titles from independent presses to the book trade. It has since grown into a major distributor, providing a range of services to a variety of small and large publishers. It represents several U.K. and Australian publishers, and sells directly into the Canadian market through the Toronto-based Manda Group

Libraries fire back in ebook pricing war

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South Shore Public Libraries in Nova Scotia says it has stopped buying Random House ebooks in reaction to a steep price hike.

“The demand for ebooks is high,” said chief librarian Troy Myers. “We will continue to provide ebooks to our borrowers as quickly as possible but will not purchase from Random House until they lower their prices for ebooks.”

South Shore Public Libraries operates four town libraries and rural outreach services in the Bridewater-Lunenburg area. It spends about $300,000 each year for new books, magazines and other materials.

Under a new regime announced last month, Random House has boosted prices for books available to libraries, publishers and schools, creating challenges for cash-strapped organizations.

South Shore cites the example of Robert K. Massie’s Catherine the Great, Portrait of a Woman. In January, the book was available to libraries for $30. The price soared to $130 on March 1, then to $85 on March 20. In comparison, the retail price for an individual ordering through Random House or Google Books is $20.

“It would be great if we could just purchase ebooks through Amazon or Random House for the lower price,” said Myers.

Libraries, however, must purchase through a digital wholesaler such as OverDrive, which supplies more 15,000 libraries, schools, and colleges with books from more than 1,000 publishers, including Random House, HarperCollins and Bloomsbury.

Random House justifies its price hike by pointing out that an ebook may theoretically circulate endlessly, without requiring the purchase of replacement copies. It also notes that it makes titles available to libraries as soon as the book is released in the retail market.

Other publishers are also struggling to establish a workable digital relationship with libraries. HarperCollins, for instance, imposes a lending cap on its titles, while Penquin has stopped selling digital editions to OverDrive, effectively cutting off ebook sales to libraries.

Sounds like a golden opportunity for indie authors and small publishers!

E-sun shines on short-form writers

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The rise of ebooks is injecting new life into a couple of story-telling formats that have been languishing on the fringes of literature for decades.

Amazon reported last month that it has sold more than two million Kindle Singles since it launched the service in January 2011.

These mini-ebooks, which typically run between 5,000 and 30,000 words, have breathed life into the kind of works that are virtually unsaleable in contemporary print markets – those that are too short to be real books and too long for a standard magazine article.

The cover prices are low – from $1 to $5 – but several writers have already managed to parlay the platform into substantial returns, a task made much easier by Amazon’s generous royalty rate.

Even established writers are being encouraged to dip their toes in the short-form waters. Right now, for instance, Ontario author Margaret Atwood is sitting at number 2 position on the Kindle Singles list with her 42-page story, I’m Starved for You.

The good news for writers is that publishers are, for the first time in years, offering these shorter works to the general public. They are putting them in their digital shop windows. People are looking. People are buying. Readers are reading.

The even better news is that Amazon is not alone in embracing the shorter form. Other publishers are starting to break into the market with their own short-form offerings.

There is Byliner, for instance, which specializes in “single sitting” stories (and also features Atwood’s I’m Starved for You). It offers curated archives for its members, in addition to a slate of original commissioned work.

And for non-fiction fans, The Atavist publishes nonfiction stories for digital devices like the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, and Nook. The Atavist’s specialty is long-form journalism, a kind of reportage that had, only recently, seemed destined for extinction.

It’s still early days, of course, but there is definitely a sense of excitement around the shorter-form digital format. The potential is there for shorter-form works to break into mainstream reading.

The day may come when short-story writers can climb out of their basements, dusty manuscripts in hand, and emerge into a sunlit landscape where they can actually sell their “cracking good yarns” to members of the general public. For real money. At last.