Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Canadian-based and Japanese-owned Kobo, the popular ereading services company, announced last week that it would soon begin its foray into the self-publishing world. Kobo’s new self-publishing platform is called Writing Life, and it promises to be a “one-stop, do-it-yourself publishing portal.”
Of course, there are already many self-publishing options available to authors. Appazoogle guest blogger, Casey Brown, has recently published the first two segments of a three-part series chronicling his experience with self-publishing through Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). There is also the Apple iBooks Author program, Barnes & Noble’s PubIt!, and Lulu. So what makes Kobo’s Writing Life different from these competitors?
The vision for Writing Life was described in a statement released by Kobo at BookExpo America last week:
‘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.’
Based on what limited information we’ve been provided so far (Writing Life is still in beta, with plans to go live sometime this month), it appears that Kobo is on track with accomplishing those goals. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the platform is its policy of openness: you can create your ebook on Writing Life and take it with you to sell on other retail channels; and since it’s an EPUB file, it should be accepted almost anywhere.
But to answer my original question, I’ve decided to create a competitive comparison (oh yeah, this includes charts!) for Writing Life with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lulu. (I’ve excluded the iBooks Author program because Apple only shares information about the program with registered iBooks Author users—the application for which resembles the one required to obtain a passport.) I wanted to see how Writing Life compares to these existing platforms in terms of ease of use (including services available), distribution options, and pricing and royalties.
Note: Before we look at the details, one major difference to point out between these four platforms is that Kobo’s Writing Life and Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! only offer electronic self-publishing; Amazon and Lulu, on the other hand, have print-on-demand publishing capability (Amazon’s is called CreateSpace). While that’s definitely something aspiring authors should consider when choosing a platform, for our purposes, we will focus strictly on ebook publishing.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, here are the charts.
Ease of use
After looking exhaustively at all this data, I’ve come to draw a few conclusions about these self-publishing platforms. The first is that we don’t know enough about Kobo’s Writing Life to really make a fair assessment of how it compares to the other three platforms. But for ease of use, we can see that Writing Life offers a fairly limited amount of file conversion services (Amazon takes the gold in that catogory). On the plus side, however, the file format Writing Life converts to is a universally accepted EPUB file; Lulu’s is accepted in the sales channels specified, Amazon’s is Mobi, and though Barnes & Noble’s converted format is EPUB, it only appears to work on NOOK devices or NOOK apps. For an author hoping to sell across multiple retail channels, Kobo is the clear winner here.
Moving to the distribution table, Lulu has the most sales channels available: it will list your book and track your sales from the Lulu marketplace, iBookstore, and NOOK bookstore. This is an incredibly convenient option; with Writing Life, KDP, and PubIt!, you only have one retail channel available. While with Writing Life your book would have “global reach,” (Kobo has markets in almost 200 countries, according the BEA press release), if you want to sell outside of Kobo’s online store you would have to keep track of the outside sales yourself. Another advantage that both Lulu and Writing Life share is the non-restrictive nature of their publishing agreements. Lulu and Kobo don’t care about the price you set in other retail channels—if Amazon or Barnes & Noble find out someone is getting a better price, you will be forced to match it for them: kiss single retailer promotions goodbye.
Unfortunately, as you can see in the last table, we don’t yet have the exact royalty percentages for Writing Life, but it does promise to offer “10 percent higher royalties” than other markets (what this means, I’m not exactly sure). It was still interesting to look at the other three as closely as I did, however. Lulu offers the highest royalties at 90 percent from its own online store. But when you consider the cut both Lulu and Barnes & Noble take on external sales, you might prefer to opt out of external sales through Lulu and deal directly with Barnes & Noble. For example, if my book is priced at $9.99, I would really only get a cut of $6.99 (70 percent of $9.99) after Barnes & Noble took its cut. Then when I factor in 20 percent to Lulu for its services, I’m at a net royalty of $5.59. But if I created a PubIt! ebook and listed the book in the NOOK bookstore, I would get 65 percent, or $6.49. Of course, now you must consider how much you value Lulu’s sales aggregation service: in this example, is it worth $0.90 per copy?
In short, Kobo’s Writing Life has a promising future. The most appealing aspect of its platform so far is its policy of openness. I’m excited to learn what the exact royalty terms are when Writing Life is released in a few weeks, and will undoubtedly fill in the missing cells and report back!
Editor’s note: The distribution table was revised on June 14, 2012 to correct an error in the Amazon royalty tier.