Wednesday, February 15, 2012

BookTango: Author Solutions Rolls Out Ebook Distribution Services

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Just introduced from self-publishing conglomerate Author Solutions (owner of the iUniverse, Xlibris, AuthorHouse, and Trafford brands, and the power behind the outsourced self-publishing divisions of Harlequin and Thomas Nelson, among others): BookTango, an ebook aggregator for self-published authors.

BookTango, which is still in beta, offers DIY ebook conversion via its online ebook editor (your file needs to be formatted to BookTango's specifications), and distribution to a variety of platforms, including Apple, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BooksOnBoard, Google, and Kobo. There's also a cover design function, ISBN assignment, and of course, payment processing.

This basic service package is free. For the $49 package, you get the basics plus conversion services (if you don't want to DIY), the ability to include images, fancier cover design options, and a free download of your ebook. There's also a $189 package; the only difference between it and the $49 package seems to be that BookTango will "handle the paperwork and get your e-book properly protected under U.S. copyright regulations." Since copyright registration is not only very easy to accomplish yourself, but costs just $35 if you do it online, there doesn't appear to be a single reason to spring for this.

BookTango says it pays "100% of net" on books sold through its own bookstore, and "90% of net" on books sold via other retailers, and claims its royalties are "the biggest in the industry" (hmmm...not so much; see below). Before you get stars in your eyes, what those numbers actually add up to is that for BookTango bookstore sales, "net" is what's left after BookTango takes a 30% transaction fee (so "100% of net" really means 70% of list); while for retailer sales, "net" is wholesale less a 10% BookTango commission. Retailer discounts can be as much as 60%, so in some cases authors may be making as little as 30% of list.

How does BookTango stack up against other aggregators, such as BookBabyEbookIt, and of course the grandaddy of them all, Smashwords? You can certainly get better financial terms. Smashwords, for instance, charges no fees, and pays 85% of list for sales from its website and 60% of list for sales through outside retailers (so much for "the biggest royalties in the industry")--but it's truly a no-frills service, and not everyone loves its Meatgrinder conversion engine. BookBaby has no free option, and both its packages cost more than BookTango's--but it doesn't take a commission on what it receives from retailers, so authors get the full wholesale price. EbookIt, on the other hand, is more expensive than BookTango on two fronts--its upfront fee is higher, and while it pays a bit more for sales through its website (75% of list), it keeps a bigger commission (15%) on sales through outside retailers.

There are many issues to consider besides fees and payment, including the Terms of Use (BookTango's TOU doesn't seem to contain any nasty surprises), the ease and reliability of the conversion/formatting utility (BookTango's looks pretty user-friendly; anyone who is familiar with Blogger or WordPress shouldn't have any trouble), the value of package add-ons (Author Solutions marketing services--ugh), royalty payment schedules (BookTango pays quarterly, but you have to earn $75 before they'll cut a check), and the author's degree of control over the process. Right now, for instance, BookTango's default price for an ebook is $4.99, and you have to make a special request if you want a different price, or if you want to change the price periodically (BookTango says it's working on a solution for this, which should roll out in a few weeks). So price pulsing won't be easy.

Comparison shopping is essential to find the service that best fits your needs and finances. Overall, though, BookTango looks like a reasonably competitive service--as long as you read the fine print, ignore the ridiculously overpriced $189 package, and are prepared to resist the expensive marketing services BookTango's parent company wants to sell you (these are prominently featured on BookTango's website). Authors who choose BookTango should be aware that Author Solutions is a relentless marketer, and should expect to be solicited for other Author Solutions services--including, very likely, a premium membership in AS's Author Learning Center (cost: $149 per year; trial subscriptions are included in all BookTango packages).

24 comments:

Grumpy Bulldog, Media Mogul said...

I've sold about 500x more by myself through Amazon than through Smashwords. I mean the only time I "sold" anything with Smashwords was by offering a coupon to get the book for free. I doubt this new thing would be any better and by forcing you to charge $4.99 it would probably be much much worse.

Matthew Bryant said...

Wow, lots of information. Thanks for sharing all of that with us! Definitely something to consider.

Rashad Pharaon said...

Call me old fashioned. This kind of stuff--don't like.

Knave said...

Am I the only one that feels like this is just a late grab at taking over an already saturated market?

Had HC been innovative and had this done five years ago, they might own the market now. Instead, it looks well lined up to be another speed bump in publishing history.

Steven Spatz said...

Great post, Victoria, and I appreciate your mention of BookBaby. It’s great that authors have so many new resources to get their eBooks out into the marketplace. Picking up on your theme that comparison shopping is essential and I’d to add these items to the shopping list:

• Will your eBook service convert your documents into ePub and .mobi for free?
• Will they convert only from Word docs, or also from PDFs, InDesign or other file formats?
• Do they offer Cover Design services?
• Can they supply an ISBN?
• How many eBook stores or distributors do they distribute to?
• And last – and maybe most importantly – does your eBook service offer a phone number where an author can talk to a real live person for help and advice?

These are among the main reasons why a lot of authors have chosen BookBaby.

Mark Coker said...

Hi Victoria, thanks for the shout out. Slight correction for you. You mentioned, "[Smashwords] pays 85% of list for sales from its website." It's actually 85% net, so it's slightly lower than you imply.

For sales at our Smashwords.com retail store, we pay 85% net, where net = (price-paypal fee) * .85. When an author prices a book at Smashwords, we display a dynamic pie chart that automatically estimates how much an author will earn at each price point so everything's transparent. Registered Smashwords users (free to register) can view the Smashwords calculator on the Smashwords upload page here. The higher the price, the greater the percentage of list retained by the author. Here are some sample price points, and approximately what the author earns at each price:

$.99 earns $.56 (57% list)
$2.99 earns $2.21 (74% list)
$4.99 earns $3.86 (77% list)
$7.99 earns $6.34 (79% list)
$9.99 earns $7.99 (80% list)

At the risk of getting too complicated, if the customer's shopping cart includes more than one book (either your books or books from other authors), then the paypal fee actually declines on a per-book percentage basis which means that it's not uncommon for authors to earn 70-80% of list on $.99 books.

@Grumpy, looks like you're not utilizing Smashwords to it's full effect. Smashwords authors earn most of their income through our global distribution network to Apple, B&N, Kobo, Sony and Diesel. I checked, your book is not distributed anywhere through us. Check your Dashboard for next steps (it's waiting for you to click the resubmit button), give the book several months to plant roots at these other retailers and you'll probably find the non-Amazons will eventually account for a reasonable chunk of your earnings.

Jake Scholl said...

I was interested, until I saw the words Author Solutions. And, if you can create your own ebooks, don't hire someone to do it.

Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks for the comments and clarifications, Steven and Mark!

Keith Ogorek said...

Thank you for spreading the word about Booktango. I think your advice to “comparison shop to find a service that best fits your needs and finances” is wise. In fact, it was comparison shopping that led us to develop and launch Booktango. During the development process, we conducted extensive market research with industry authorities and authors. Those conversations helped us identify exactly what authors were looking for in a Do-It-Yourself e-book publishing solution and what was causing them pain.

We found there was a huge gap in the market, and therefore an opportunity, to develop a DIY solution that was not only easy-to-use, but also allowed authors the ability to publish for free (I think you said it best by describing one option as a “meatgrinder”). We identified the features authors wanted and then built those into Booktango. The result is an simple-to-use solution that makes it free and easy to publish great looking e-books and have them distributed to all leading e-reading devices and retailers.

Regarding royalties, we understand they can be confusing as your blog post and responses indicate; especially considering how each vendor has an entirely different structure. In an effort to make things as simple as possible, we have clarified some of the language on the site to ensure authors know exactly what they are getting with Booktango. Best of all, we’ve made it easy to track and receive those royalties through direct deposit.

For authors who are looking for a little extra help with publishing their manuscript, Booktango also offers professional book formatting services for a modest $49. No other DIY e-book imprint offers that convenience.

We’ve put a lot into Booktango, but we’re not done yet. Over the next few weeks, we plan to launch an online cover designer and the ability for authors to set their own price within the application. We believe these added features will help to ensure Booktango stays the best DIY e-book publishing option on the market.

We truly believe this is the best time in history to be an author, and the launch of Booktango is just one more example of why we hold to that conviction.

online shop said...

wow, nice blog.. where i can get this template?

Teddy said...

I just wish to point out, (yes fairly late), that in doing research between BookTango and SW, I found a Gotcha! at BookTango that everyone should be aware of. On the BookTango site under their "Publisher" you will find the following:

"What if I already have a cover design or image? Can I use it?
YES
However, you will be allowed to upload a cover image only if you’ve selected one of our two paid packages — Time Saver or Defender — or have added the Choice Cover Design service to your free package."


This means in plain English that you do have to spend money if you designed your own book cover. Since these days most authors going this route already have a cover design they will be forced to purchase a service they do not need. Which in the end is a big X in my book. When you say something is free, it is free. A book also includes the cover, especially when the site itself has a long spiel on how important book covers are. My 2 cents.

beth said...

Hi,

If I publish with BookTango or Smashword, do they take the rights to my ebook?

Beth

Victoria Strauss said...

beth--

Smashwords' and Book Tango's Terms and Conditions are different, but basically they (and services like them) take only the nonexclusive right to publish and distribute your work. You keep all your rights, and especially your copyright.

There may be other restrictions in the Terms and Conditions--for instance, there may be pricing restrictions (i.e., you can't price your ebook lower than a certain amount) or the like. It's very important to read the Terms and Conditions, or Author Agreement, or whatever it's called, very carefully and be sure you understand it.

Chris Bass said...

Since your original post, we have made two major enhancements to ensure Booktango is the leading e-publishing and distribution platform for authors.

Earlier this month, we announced that for authors who publish with Booktango by July 4, 2012, we will allocate the entire sales price of their e-books sold on bookstore.booktango.com. That means that if an e-book sells for $4.99 through the Booktango bookstore, the author gets $4.99. If the e-book sells through another outlet (such as Amazon®, Barnes and Noble®, Kobo®, Apple® iBooks, or Google®), the selling retailer takes its standard fee, and the author gets the rest. In both of these examples, Booktango takes nothing—for the life of the book. Authors who published prior to our May 2 announcement are grandfathered into the program and will also earn maximum royalties for the life of their books.

In April, we launched a DIY cover designer that offers maximum flexibility for authors who want to create custom cover art with drag-and-drop ease. We offer four different options: upload your own image, use one of our royalty-free images, upload a completed design, or purchase our cover design service. Best of all, we perform all final quality assurance to ensure the cover specifications meet or exceed distributors’ standards for presentation and readability.

We have said it before: there has never been a better time to be an author.

Anonymous said...

Chris, Thanks for clarifying. BookTango does indeed sound like a great option. A couple of questions:

does BT allow for authors to make updates, and contextual changes?, and do these changes effect the fee structure/life of the book?

Thanks, Everett

Chris Bass said...

Hi Everett,

Yes, Booktango allows authors to make updates and contextual changes. These changes do not impact the royalty structure provided the book was originally published prior to July 4, 2012.

Chris

Stefano Di Genua said...

Thank Victoria for your post.
It is very interesting that everybody here is focused on comparing royalties flowing from different publishers leaving aside the net income that eventually flows into the author's pocket at the end of the fiscal year.
As an independent non-US resident author, I found very crucial comparing services offered by Bookbaby and others with platforms such as Booktango.
The fact that Bookbaby & Co. do not apply any withholding tax by default on income generated by royalties is a key factor for non-US residents authors. Leaving the latters to deal directly with their own tax authorities may offer the authors opportunitie to find the best way to minimize their own tax impacts on the sweat spent on their works.
I understand that this last issue may be dealt in sending Booktango the form W-9 (as if the author is directly selling to digital retailers considering this is the same process requesting by Amazon for example). Yet, this solution would applt clear cut tax rates defined by bilateral agreements between US and other countries. Thsi is not the best way to optimize taxation.
I also wonder why Booktango allocates part of its operations time to deal with daunting IRS requirements.
My understanding is then that the two business models, Bookbaby&Co.'s and Booktango's are entirely different if compared from the legal perspective of their T&Cs. Hence the competitive advantage of Bookbaby&Co. when dealing with non US-resident authors.
Please correct me (especially Steven and Chris) if my considerations and conclusion are wrong.

Lisa said...

It's hard for me to figure out why authors would use a distribution service when they can go direct to at least 4 of the top markets and get all the royalties, and maintain control over their work. Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and Kobo all have excellent self-service publishing options. It's a little harder work to set it up on the front end, but once it's set up, it's done. It helps to have a decent conversion done, but you're talking $100-$150 for a typical conversion and then you have it in your possession with no strings attached.

Diana said...

Hi.. was wondering if any one has had any experience with children's ebooks. The problem that I have encountered is that when we put the ebook together the illustrations have a border around them, in other words they don't bleed out to the edge of the pages. I have done some homework and understand that there is an application for the IPAD but not for Nook, Kindle, etc. So my question is.. does anyone know a way to push the illustrations out to the edge or a way to make the border disappear?

Jennifer Hampson said...

I have been fighting with Booktango for days now. I was interested in paying for their promotional services and not paying them for the uploading and editing of my book as I figured I could do that myself. Well I discovered that their editor is set up to make you fail. When you upload your book, if you can even get it to upload without customer care, the editor picks out all sorts of mistakes, the main one is it will tell you that you have an unacceptable font. So if you choose a font from their editor, the error continues. So I check their approved font list, go back to word; change all my fonts from Times New Roman to Calibri which is on their list of accept fonts. By the way, who on earth would make Times New Roman an unacceptable font? Well Booktango does. I re-upload my book. GUESS WHAT, same error, unacceptable font. I called book tango and they told me the editor had some errors and they were fixing it. Believe me my friends this was no error. The editor was coded with all unacceptable fonts, not a single font in their editor was an accepted font. I might have believed their lie if there were at least a few fonts on the editor list that were acceptable fonts. All the fonts in the editor we unapproved fonts according to their terms.

So next I try to upload my book cover, it’s says the minimum requirements are 1400 x 2100, and that is also the recommended setting for the cover. So the closest I can get my cover to those dimensions is 1500 x 2192 which should have been fine as it met the min requirements, and it was pretty close to the recommended requirements. Well it won't upload, and a representative from booktango told me it had to 1400 x 2100, would have been nice if it said that IT HAD TO meet those requirements on the upload page, but it doesn't. Bottom line is Booktango is set up to force you to pay them to do the easiest part of writing your ebook, the uploading, and formatting for the book. It’s a scam and very unethical. I would highly recommend staying away from them all together. I went to all the book sites individually and uploaded my book and cover with absolutely no problems and very minimal changes to the book. I am stuck with Ibooks since I have no ijunk I can’t upload my book to Ibooks. So I went to fiverr and paid someone 5.00 to do it for me and I keep 100%. If you made it through the writing process people you surely can upload your book on your own. It’s time consuming, but anyone can do it. You only need to make a few minor changes to your file on each book site. It’s well worth it to do it yourself than deal with booktango trying to steal from you.

I am glad I didn’t make it any further with Booktango as I was going to pay almost 2000.00 for their promotional services. They lost out big because I discovered their scam before I could even get to the promotional part of my book. All they are out for is to get you for every penny starting with the 49.00 basic uploading package.

Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks for the info, Jennifer. I hope more writers will post about their experiences with BookTango.

One of Author Solutions' main moneymakers is its promotional services--many, if not most of them, ineffective and overpriced. I'm interested to know if they push them to BookTango users as hard as they do to users of their other services.

Ian Harris said...

I uploaded my book onto Booktango just over a week ago using the "free option".
It took me 20 minutes to work out the "errors" they informed me I had.
I selected a cover from the free offerings and uploaded (I used Times New Roman by the way as my font).
By the following day, It had been formated etc.
Within Two days it was out to publishers.
I have checked and so far it is on Amazon, Kobo, Scribd and two other sites (I've forgotten which and cant be bothered to recheck while writing this).
Personally, whatever faults Booktango may have, my short but sweet 10 days with them have been faultless

Anonymous said...

Everybody listen!!!

Do not pay eBookit, BookBaby, or any other internet company to get your book listed on Amazon or anywhere else!

Don't do it! They're not reliable and they just take your money. It's easy to do yourself - you just need a little patience.

You've spent so much time writing your book, just spend another week researching ePub conversion companies and retail outlets (Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Kobo, etc).

It's not that hard.

I hired one of the above companies the first time I published a book - but after 6 months of frustration I cancelled and did it myself. That's how I learned how to do it the easy way.

5 Simple Steps:

1. Write your book
2. Design a GREAT book cover (google book designers or go to Smashwords, Book Baby, etc for their service - yes, for this you can hire these folks - but only for this).
3. Hire an independent ePub converter (I now exclusively use ebookconverting.com - Lisa is the BEST! Trust me!)
4. Upload to Amazon
5. Upload everywhere else

The good thing about Amazon (and the other sites) is that you can totally mess up the upload process but you can ALWAYS fix it! These companies know authors are going to screw up :) They make it easy to edit, change, or do whatever you need to to make sure everything is set up properly. Even after it's for sale you can ALWAYS tweak it.

Amazon also doesn't need an ISBN. iTunes does, I believe. But that's no problem! Go to Bowkers and buy one. Easy. Done!

What about meta-data and all that stuff? Whoever converts your book will take care of it. Easy. Done!

I mean, seriously - are you really going to let BookBaby or eBookIt or Smashwords takes a cut of your profits? Really? Are you insane? What's your excuse? Sorry, there are none. The security these companies offer is a sham. Detailed reports, quarterly checks, blah blah blah. But you know what? If you do it yourself, you get the same reports (and more!) directly from Amazon/iTunes/etc - and in real time.

PLEASE!

Take a week and do it yourself.

You'll thank me later. I guarantee you will! You will want to buy me a drink or a cup of coffee. But I won't be there, of course. Instead, please give a buck or two to someone in need.

Thx!!!

Lily THERESA said...

This post was published almost a year and a half ago and I'm wondering about statements here that seem to conflict with those currently on the Booktango website. here is what Booktango says:

When you publish with Booktango, you'll receive 100 percent of every dollar sold through the Booktango bookstore and 100 percent of net royalties when you make a sale through any of our online retail partners. You pay nothing and keep everything. - See more at: http://www.booktango.com/HowItWorks/#sthash.GGB27fad.dpuf

Here is the conflicting paragraph from the post here by Victoria Strauss:

BookTango says it pays "100% of net" on books sold through its own bookstore, and "90% of net" on books sold via other retailers, and claims its royalties are "the biggest in the industry" (hmmm...not so much; see below). Before you get stars in your eyes, what those numbers actually add up to is that for BookTango bookstore sales, "net" is what's left after BookTango takes a 30% transaction fee (so "100% of net" really means 70% of list); while for retailer sales, "net" is wholesale less a 10% BookTango commission. Retailer discounts can be as much as 60%, so in some cases authors may be making as little as 30% of list.

Just wondering how to reconcile these statements...

Any responses?