e-Book Publishing How To (an interview with Tony Michalski)

Tony Michalski is the owner of the publishing company, Kallisti Publishing, located in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Kallisti Publishing is a publisher of motivational, instructional, and personal development products that improve peoples’ lives.  Kallisti Publishing began publishing books in 1998 and became a full-fledged business (and passion) for the owner, Tony Michalski, in 2000.

Michalski’s expansive professional experience in the digital and publishing world includes work as a computer technician, computer network specialist, database specialist for a newspaper, doing layout for a newspaper, on the line in a book bindery, pre-press for a book manufacturer, as the “computer guy” for a small company, and web design.  www.kallistipublising.com.  Email: tony@kallistipublishing.com.  Twitter: @tonymichalski, @kallistipublish

Karol provides storage, packaging, distribution fulfillment business solutions to e-commerce, other business, non-profits, and associations for over 36 years.    www.karolfulfillmentservices.com  Email  sales@karolmedia.com


Karol:  First off, Tony, tell me about your experience with e-books and its growing place in the publishing marketplace.  Karol Media has been in the publishing fulfillment business for decades. We have printed and fulfilled almost any known print product in the market.  E-books, of course, are still a new entity to authors and customers.

Kallisti Publishing:  E-books. They’ve actually been around for a while.  Pretty much when the Internet (and access to it) became popular, e-books have been in play. Whether the format was some sort of Microsoft Word document, a web page, an Adobe PDF, or some new kind of file format, e-books have been sold or traded.

The important thing to keep in mind when discussing e-books is that e-books are primarily a change in medium. From the oral tradition to clay tablets to papyrus scrolls, to illuminated volumes to bound books fresh off a printing press, a book is merely a vessel that holds information. Now, in our “Buck Rogers” century, we’re finally seeing the e-book gain ground and popularity.

And it’s good. Not that e-books are better, nor that traditional books (as in “real” books) are bad. Traditional books are good technology that has passed the test of time. And even in our modern world, they still stand strong: they don’t crash, they’re easy to bookmark, they’re convenient, they’re easy to store and access. E-books bring a different set of plusses to the mix.

E-books can be accessible anywhere instantly, they don’t burn, they’re much easier to store, and they truly allow any person with a computer and Internet access to become an author and publisher and to share their knowledge and insights with the world. When you think about it, it’s quite amazing, if not out-and-out magical.

They also bring some new problems to the table, though. E-books, because of their nature, lack a certain permanence and can be altered at any time. (Is it possible that we can find ourselves moving from revisionist history to rewritten history?) With the various formats, a book is only as readable as the computer/software one has at their disposal. (Got an e-reader? What if you get a different one down the line?) They’re not very easy to share. (A traditional book once read can be forwarded to a friend. Not so with an e-book, generally. Your friend has to buy their own copy.)

Much like music, though, it’s a step in the right direction — a direction where information of whatever flavor, be it book, music, or movie, is available at the flick of one’s finger. And for both the buyer and seller, that translates as convenience, both in the buying and the selling.

I began selling e-books fairly early in the game. I’d convert the books I published into the Adobe PDF format and sell them as downloads. I still do to this day.  As time and technology changed,  I moved into the new formats, epub (for the Apple iPad/iPhone and Nook and Kobo) and mobi (for the Kindle). These sellers and their devices are what really changed publishing and not necessarily the e-book format.

As Karol is well aware in their publishing and fulfillment work, in the past, a publisher would publish a book, sell it through a bookstore or directly to the customer, and that was it. Now, a publisher MUST go through a middleman. And an e-books success or failure in some ways depends on the e-reader’s popularity. Thus we get into the situation — and may very well see more in the future — that Apple and some publishers had regarding price setting. What should an e-book cost? Who should determine that? In the past, it was easy to determine. Now … It’s somewhat strange.

We also have issues of Digital Rights Management (DRM), exclusivity, availability, ownership … Things that don’t come into play with a simple and “clean” transaction of one buying a traditional book. I’m confident that everything will work out, though. They usually do. I think that those “problems” highlight the fact that we’re in the Wild West with all this stuff, even though aspects of “normalcy” are beginning to settle.

I should note that while e-books are becoming quite popular and their sales are beginning to overcome those of traditional books, in my view, traditional books are not going anywhere any time soon.  Karol knows that traditional books are still ordered and shipped robustly everywhere.  As I noted, traditional books are great technology. Beyond that, the traditional book is the paradigm that most people, at this point, associate with reading. Everything from the smell of a traditional book to the turning of pages makes it seem more natural — more real. That will change just as the “realness” of putting a needle onto a record changed into pushing a button to insert a compact disc into a player. And even when that shift in human perception occurs with regard to books, I still don’t think books will go anywhere. At least not anytime soon.

People refer to our age as the “digital frontier” or the “Internet Age.” I like calling it the “Connected Age.” We’re all connected now and can communicate — transfer information — instantly, whether it is by phone or message or book or film. E-books are a new vessel for transferring information — information that can inform or titillate a person’s mind. It’s powerful. Books have changed the world. Books do change the world. And e-books just may accelerate that change. What’s more is that change might come from the most unlikely places. Only time will tell.

Karol:  Tony, you say “In the past, a publisher would publish a book, sell it through a bookstore or directly to the customer, and that was it. Now, a publisher MUST go through a middleman.”  Could you elaborate on this a bit?  Musician artists, for example, now can (attempt to) reach their customers directly through, for example, their own website. How is this different – or is it? – with e-books?

Kallisti Publishing:   Ah! Good question.

I used the term “middleman” in a somewhat different sense than in the traditional way it is used. Of course, publishers go through middlemen, such as distributors and retailers.  Now, though, we’re experiencing a sort of new middleman:  the reading device, which is necessary to be able to access the e-book. Whether that device is the iPad or Kindle or Nook or Kobo or even a person’s computer, that device is needed. Also, more than that, it will always be needed to read that copy of the e-book, especially if DRM (Digital Rights Management, aka “copy-protection”) is in place.

Traditionally, one could go to a bookstore (or order a book online), purchase the book, and that’s that.

Now, one must commit to a reading device and then fill that device with books from that particular retailer. From then on, the purchaser is dependent on that retailer’s device for those e-books purchased. One cannot easily take one’s Kindle e-books and transfer them to one’s Nook. (I wrote “easily” there because one technically can, but it takes some know-how.)

A publisher can also sell e-books directly to the customer, as you mentioned, in whatever “flavor” device they have. Again, though, this brings with it some complications. A purchase from Amazon for the Kindle is very easy and seamless: you purchase and then the e-book is on the device. With a direct download from the publisher, things can get a little more difficult in that it may involve downloading the e-book to one’s computer, connecting the device to the computer, and knowing how to make the transfer to the device. Thus, we find another “middleman” coming into the mix: the purchaser’s knowledge of computers.

See? Not as easy and clean as going to the store and buying the book and being done with it.

That’s what I meant with my usage of the term “middlemen” in regards to e-books and how they’re bought and sold: In the past, the flow of the book from publisher to reader was simple; now, it’s more complex and includes the retailer, the device, the reader’s knowledge of technology, and DRM.

Karol:  Oh. That is very interesting.  It seems like a “new divide” is forming:  E-books on Kindles, E-books on Nooks; E-books on I-pads.  So, this leads me to ask Tony:  For the benefit of our reader, tell me how will the “direct publishers” (folks who are self-published) fare in dealing direct with a customer?  And do you ever see a day where e-books might reach across device platforms to be shareable regardless of the device you own?

Kallisti Publishing:  Let me go back a bit to the “middleman” term for a few. The traditional model was that the publisher made the book, sold it primarily through distributors, and marketed it to stores/retailers via ads and reviews. With e-books, the book is made by the publisher, which must then be placed by the publisher for sale on the e-book store, and then marketed to the reader.  It’s quite a change.

So, in some ways, the self-publisher is in a better position to market an e-book, provided that they have a good platform (read: fan base or following) to whom they can market their book. Many traditional publishers are not ready to take on this task as it is very different from traditional way of doing things.

Of course, the main business of a publisher, like any business, is marketing. But when one is not ready or able to utilize the new ways, the things can fall flat. Of course, the same can befall a self-publisher if he or she should operate along the lines of “if I build it then they will come” mentality.

In short, whatever the method, whatever the publisher, it’s all about the marketing and getting the word out about the book.

As far as e-books being shareable, in some ways they are. One can get, for instance, the Kindle app for one’s iPad or iPhone. With many publishers, such as me, opting to sell their books DRM-free, without any copy protection, that may lead to one being able to skip between devices.

However that resolved, we’re still dealing with electronic formats. With music, we became used to that, as recorded music is a product of technology. A book has always been a book. Yes, technology influenced it (and even made it possible, ala Gutenberg). It’s always been a book, as we know, it.  Now, it can be a PDF or an ePub or one of over a dozen formats, all of which require a device or a program to translate it into something a person can read. Much like a person needs a phonograph to listen to a record, a cassette machine for tapes, a CD player for CDs, and an mp3 player for digital music.

So, after a few thousand years, books have finally caught up with other aspects of recorded information. And how it will progress? I wish I knew.