I heard a negative comment about OverDrive yesterday that I won’t pass on because I can’t verify it, but it didn’t sound good.  Still waiting on more info from OverDrive.

Lightning Source, to me, is most familiar as a Print on Demand (POD) printer.  I didn’t know until recently that they distribute ebooks, too.

Lightning Source is part of Ingram, which is a book distributor.  I didn’t know that Ingram also distributes ebooks, but apparently they do; I’ll have to focus on that a different day.

From the LS Publisher FAQ:

What ebook services does Lightning Source offer?

Lightning Source offers a full suite of digital fulfillment services ranging from digital rights management to secure ebook delivery on behalf of retailers. With established alliances with major technology partners such as Adobe Systems Inc., Microsoft, Palm and others, we deliver ebooks in Adobe Acrobat ebook Reader, Microsoft Reader, and Palm eBook formats.

Must my title be in digital format when I submit it?
Yes. For ebook submissions Lightning Source accepts only digital file submissions.

In submitting a digital file, are there format requirements?
Yes. Contact your Client Services representative for complete specifications or refer to the eBook Operations Manuals on the Publishers Secure Site (to access, login at the top).

How do you add an ebook title to the Lightning Source digital library?
It’s easy. Contact your Client Services representative for full instructions.

How do resellers know which ebooks are available through Lightning Source?
All ebooks in the Lightning Source library are supplied to Lightning Source retailers and distributors directly by LSI. For specific questions, contact your LSI client service representative.

Can Lightning Source guarantee secure delivery of ebooks?
Lightning Source works hand in hand with our technology partners to provide the most current security technology for your product. The Lightning Source digital fulfillment system is secure from the encryption of files to secure delivery.

Does the Lightning Source digital fulfillment system include digital rights management?
Yes, Lightning Source supports the digital rights management systems of the platform providers.

Who decides user rules?
The publisher determines all user rules.

Who owns the content?
The publisher owns the content in the file.

Who decides what ebook formats titles are delivered in?
When setting-up an ebook title, the publisher determines in which formats to make titles available.

Are ebook titles returnable?
No.

How does a publisher get paid for ebook sales?
For each ebook sold, publishers will receive payments as well as detailed sales reports monthly that will indicate which titles were sold and what format they were sold in. These sales reports can be sent electronically or as a hard copy – whichever you prefer.

Who sets the cover price for ebooks?
As with all other formats, the publisher sets the cover price for ebooks.

According to Wikipedia, major retailers of LS include:

  • Powells.com
  • Ebookmall.com
  • Diesel-ebooks.com
  • Fictionwise.com
  • Booksonboard.com
  • eBooksAboutEverything.com

From another list, on ebook Architects:

  • Apple iBooks
  • AllRomanceeBooks.com
  • OmniLit.com
  • Powells.com
  • eBookMall.com
  • Diesel-eBooks.com
  • Fictionwise.com (only offers eBooks in MS Reader and Palm/eReader formats)
  • BooksOnBoard.com
  • eBooksAboutEverything.com

However, I can’t find anything from LS saying where they retail, so I have no idea whether those are correct or out-of-date.  I sent an email to LS to find out.

It annoys me that this isn’t something they brag about.  In fact, it annoys me, as a small press/author, that:

1) It’s hard to identify, say, the top 10 ebook markets.  How much money are they making?  How many ebooks are they selling?  Is there an objective way to tell where I want to make sure I get into?

2) It’s hard to identify where ebook retailers are getting their books from (distributors?  directly from the authors?).

3) It’s hard to identify when you have to set yourself up as a publisher in order to get into a distributor/retailer (well, other than Smashwords).  And trying to find out about fees without getting sucked in?  Sheesh.

4) It’s hard to identify the top 10 distributors.

5) It’s hard to identify the difference between an ebook aggregator and a distributor.  Is there one?  If not, why the term?

6) It’s hard to identify when independent authors are being de-facto cut out of markets, because of a combination of the above.

Granted:  It’s an evolving system, and practically speaking, getting into Smashwords, Amazon, and B&N will get you into most places.

However, who’s to say that those three markets will be the best ones, forever?  And who’s to say that they will be the best avenues to get into developing markets?  And what happens if all indy publishers take for granted that those three are the ones to hit, no more, and stuff happens behind the scenes in big publishing’s favor?

I just keep thinking, “What would I do if I were a big publisher?”

“Regain control over book distribution.”

“How would I do that?”

“1) Buy out Smashwords.  2) Renegotiate for current authors’ backlists–make it a condition of signing contracts for new books.  3) Reprice ebooks as impulse buys.  4) Push to make selling ISBNs illegal as well as selling a book without an ISBN.  That is, in general, raise the bar to get books on the market, lower the price of big-publishing books so impulses always mean buying from them, and prevent name authors from publishing anywhere but with the bigs.”

However, I think there will be another factor – I fear.  There will be more predators in the distribution chain, that is, gatekeepers between the author and the retailer, even as the need for them lessens.

Currently:

Author–>Publisher/Ebook formatter—>Original distributor (Smashwords)—>Retailer (sometimes same as distributor)

I fear we’ll develop a chain of distributors, like there is for small-press print books:

Author–>Publisher—>Printer—>Distributor (Atlas Books – time for a credit check!)—>Secondary Distributor (Ingram’s)—>Retailer

And I fear that the less we look into these things, the faster it will happen, and the less money authors will make.  Every time a gatekeeper is added, you lose money.