To Self-Publish and Perish: Buried Under 3.4 Million E-Books

 I finally found where Amazon reveals a hidden (and juicy) statistic: the number of ebooks available in the Kindle Store. If you’re an Amazon Associate, you can easily find it too but to make it simple I took a screen shot of the page where it shows, this one dated August 16, 2014:

Look at what the red arrow points to: “Results from Amazon Kindle Store…3,376,174 results”. That’s how many ebooks are stocked in the Kindle Store as of now: 3.4 million.

And by the time I had finished writing this blog post (one hour later) that number had climbed to…3,376,186! It took one hour to add 12 books, one new title every five minutes.  In 24 hours, the number had climbed to 3,378,960, that’s 2786 more books – let’s say, 2,800 a day, that’s over one million books per year – and probably growing at an exponential rate that I cannot calculate for the moment; I haven’t got the data though Amazon does (I wonder whether they are as scared as I am).

You can bet that in 10 years time the number of titles in the Kindle Store could be anywhere between 20 and 40 million books.

This is as many books as Google is said to have scanned globally, drawing from all the world’s libraries (the latest reported figure dates to last year and was 33 million books).

Surprised? I’m not, not really. Internet guru Jaron Lanier, in his fascinating book “Who Owns the Future” suggests that we should eventually expect as many writers online as there are readers. If he’s right (and there’s not reason to believe him wrong), we still have some way to go. But it will surely happen, and probably sooner than you think.

It’s also very instructive to look at the list of titles provided using the filter “new and popular” (the one I used – but there are other filters too depending on what you’re looking for) and you’ll see that Daniel Silva‘s “The Heist” (the 14th book in the Allon series) comes on top: it was published on 15 July 2014 and already got over 1,200 customer reviews. Not unsuprisingly it is is ranked #51 in “paid Kindle” and #1 in several subcategories including mystery and suspense.

By the way, “The Heist” is published by one of the Big Five (Harper) and priced at an average $14 which is standard for traditionally published books. That price, high in relation to the average price for self-published books (which according to Smashwords is around $3.99), does not seem to have impeded its sales or ranking. This is not to say that traditional publishers can get away with any level of high prices – I would argue that a level beyond $14 is damaging and ensures that some excellent writers, like William T. Volmann, perhaps our times’ major “fabulist”, is not as widely read as he could be. His latest book, Last Stories and Other Stories, is priced at over $22, a price equivalent to the hardcover.   That places him well beyond the reach of the average e-book reader, in practice excluding him from any exposure in the Kindle Store. Don’t be surprised if his book is sitting at #42,967 Paid in Kindle Store in spite of the boost it has received in the mainstream media, most recently the New York Times (see here).

Indeed, if anything, books that are priced high and traditionally published seem to occupy the first ranks everywhere on Amazon. And I’m not referring to special cases like John Green’s best-selling “The Fault in our Stars” with over 29,000 customer reviews and a ranking in paid Kindle at #8 for books, although it is noteworthy that its ranking is not the same in the ebook market (it sits at # 3,810). Here I am looking at the Kindle Store only and what pops up in the ranks is often quite different from what emerges in printed books, and why it is so, is a story for another blog post.

In any case, whether looking at the printed or ebook markets, you have to look hard for self-published authors though, undeniably, they are there…Hugh Howey with over 2,000 reviews for his Dust (book 3 of the WOOL trilogy) is sitting at #815 in “paid in Kindle Store”; Bella Andre’s Kiss Me Like This at #642 (it came out in June 2014 and has over 170 reviews); J.A. Konrath’s Whiskey Sour at #1615 (it came out in February 2013 and has nearly 1,200 reviews); Barry Eisler‘s Graveyard of Memories at #5,136 (it came out in February 2014 and already has over 600 reviews) – but Eisler’s book is published by an Amazon imprint, Thomas and Mercer, and he cannot be thought of as a self-published author stricto sensu, though he often sides with indies and famously walked away from a big publisher’s contract a few years ago.

The conclusion? Self-published authors, even the most successful ones, aren’t doing badly of course, but they are certainly not doing as well in terms of exposure as traditionally published authors. Sometimes, a traditionally published author who finds herself retrograded to the “midlist”, with the publisher giving no signs of wishing to renew the contract, may have no choice but to self-publish to survive. This is what Eileen Goudge did and so elegantly explained in a blog post here on Jane Friedman‘s blog, enticingly titled “Self-publish or Perish” (hence the title for my own blog post here).

However, we should remember that if the midlist author’s economic “survival” is ensured, it is largely thanks to the 70% royalty Amazon pays, because it is certainly not remarkable in terms of exposure – I won’t go further in the details and give you yet another ranking, you can check for yourself if you’re curious (here).

Moreover, one must remember that all rankings are ephemeral, they change constantly, and one needs to be Amazon itself (or set up a 24 hour watch for months on end) to figure out which authors have “staying power” and which don’t. So all the rankings I’m quoting here are merely indicative.

Still, some insights can be gleaned. It is particularly interesting to check on the more successful self-published authors and see how they fare today. I checked at random the more famous ones such as Amanda Hocking or John Locke whose amazing success stories (selling “a million copies” in a matter of months) have been instrumental in launching the self-publishing craze.

Well, they are not doing as well today as you might expect. Amanda Hocking has two books going currently for free and her best selling book, My Blood Approves (now traditionally published by St Martin’s) is ranked #34,251 Paid in Kindle Store. John Locke’s Promise You Won’t Tell, with close to 1,200 reviews was going free the last time I checked and his best selling non-free book Casting Call (actually also the most recent, published in February 2014) is priced at $2.99 and ranked #11,195 in paid in Kindle Store. In other words, it’s doing reasonably well but breaking no records.

Why are such famous self-published authors with millions of copies sold – I would say even “iconic” writers – following the free promotion strategy exactly as propounded by self-published author David Gaughran in his excellent guidebook Let’s Get Visible?

I’m sure you can come up with still more striking success stories, and please be sure to highlight them out in the comments, but my point is that the success doesn’t stay on…it waxes and wanes (which is natural) and then falls off a cliff, to use David Gaughran’s striking metaphor. Hence, the authors efforts to revive their books with free promotions. A tough life!

Now if life is tough for the more successful self-published authors, try and imagine what it’s like for the rest of us?

The reason why? Basically the tsunami of books that buries every single newcomer!

No doubt this is another compelling reason why you should follow David Gaughran’s advice. And don’t get discouraged, Amazon has just handed out a candy to self-published authors, making it possible for them for the first time ever to access to the “pre-order” functionality on its website (is this a side-effect of the Hachette-Amazon spat? Who knows…) Regardless of Amazon’s reasons for doing this, it is a big gift, because it means that,  just like a traditional publisher could do till now, you are able to promote your book on all the sites you navigate for 90 days prior to launching, while pre-orders accumulate on Amazon’s site: on the day of release, all these orders are filled at a single go, ensuring a boost to your book, launching it up Amazon’s rankings!

Because, as David Gaughran points out, in this environment awash with books, you cannot ever stop marketing your titles – and now you have another tool at your disposal to launch your next book…use it!

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Digital Revolution Act Two: TheTrue Nature of Amazon Revealed?

Fascinating report from Author Earnings (see here). In the traditional publishing world, the reaction to that report was rather negative (according to the UK Guardian), putting into question the methodology. But even taking into account all the limitations of this report, it still reveals a lot about about Amazon, keeping in mind that 120,000 books included in the report comprise approximately 50% of Amazon e-Book revenue and that Amazon’s own publishing ventures (five imprints) account for only 6% of the total, a surprisingly small share compared to 38% of the “Big Five” (legacy publishers):

 

OK, Indies account for 31 percent. Fascinating but at the same time frightening: remember, we are dealing here with JUST 120,000 titles (so, out of those, some 40,000 titles are indies) But this is out of a total of how many books in the Kindle Store, 3 million? 4 million? I’d love to know.

Assuming it’s somewhere between 3 and 4 million, that means less than 3% float to the surface and get bought, perhaps even as little as 2%.

The other frightening aspect of this (otherwise brilliant) analysis is the focus on rankings. It really confirms that there are no quality gatekeepers on Amazon, number of sales rule the day! Sales beget sales, historical sales keep a book floating for several weeks, and when sales dip for too long, the book sinks out of sight.

Sales numbers decide whether a book shows up or not in any reader’s searches.

I perfectly understand the logic but I deeply regret it.

It means that numbers trump quality.

Readers navigating Amazon will keep seeing the same books over and over again. If you’ve got a book that doesn’t hit the #100 rank, there’s no hope for you. None whatsoever. Because it means you have no Internet presence, not enough fans to buy your books together at a given point in time so that the ranking is boosted up. Authors with fans acquired in a previous existence as a traditionally published “mid-list author” have an obvious head start in this rankings game, no question about it, and that head start is decisive.

Good for them, but if you’re a newbie, never published before by a trad publisher, beware!

If all this notwithstanding, you do decide to jump into self-publishing, then the two genres that you should write in to have any hope of success, according to this report, are romance and science fiction/fantasy – but especially romance, look at this amazing graph:

Yes, on Amazon, the “Big Five” only seem to do well in thrillers and non-fiction. Thrillers also happens to be the area where Amazon imprints do best. However, for non-fiction, children’s and literary fiction, Amazon imprints are no match to the Big Five, they literally disappear…

Broadly speaking, literary fiction and children’s fiction don’t make the cut on Amazon, it would seem that both kids and persons who like literary reads need printed books from legacy publishers to be happy (I can’t say I’m surprised – that makes sense; ebooks are only good for quick reads when traveling or waiting at the dentist’s).

Of course, all this data needs to be taken with a grain of salt (we know nothing of the rest of what’s on Amazon – from where exactly the other half of Amazon earning stems from, and of course, Amazon won’t tell).

This puts the battle between Hachette and Amazon in perspective, doesn’t it? Some of Hachette authors are surely hurt but it is likely that many are NOT suffering all that much because the majority of their books are not sold in the Kindle Store…

Still, I am shocked that the whole analysis hinges on only 120,000 titles…Your views?

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A Perfect Summer Breakfast

What a way to start a perfect summer day! A foamy cappuccino, a crisp croissant (or cornetto if you are in Italy), fresh fruit and a good book:

 

 Am I plugging my latest book? Yes, shamelessly, ha ha! I just got it in the mail, brand new, fresh from Create Space’s printing presses (you can see it here on Amazon – for some mysterious reason, the blue in reality is several shades darker than on the website, looks much better in reality. I confess that I love a printed book. It looks more real than the digital version, it’s got pages you can turn, a shiny cover you can slide your fingers on, and you can write in the margin. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t feel I’ve published a book until I hold it in my hands…

And I’m not afraid to say it’s a damn good book…Though I must also confess that I find it hard to self-promote, it goes against the grain. I’ve been brought up by old-fashioned parents who felt children should be seen and not heard.

…Well, not quite like that (though it pretty much sums up the influence of my mother and father, Mom was always the one who showed affection and Dad the one who discussed ideas). And it’s hard to shake off a lifetime of acting reserved and demure.

So what is this book Forever Young about? A near-future thriller (yes, scary!), it is set 200 years from now. Last week it got a Nevil Award for climate fiction and has already garnered 5-star reviews on Amazon. Actually, last year, when I published the opening, it got a lot of attention on Goodreads (23 ratings) – and more recently on Wattpad (400 reads) and Readwave (1685 reads, 13 likes, my most successful short, a 3 minute read, see here).

Here are some excerpts, and I treasure them, there is nothing that makes a writer happier than a good review that shows the reader enjoyed the book:

  • “Futuristic and yet spot on” (Beate Boeker, here) 
  • “A highly plausible future. Scarily plausible” (Bob Rector, here)
  • “A prophetic view of our future” (Lit Amri) 
  •  “a roller coaster ride” (Marsha Roberts, here
  • “A growing tension among the main characters as the fatal end approaches” (C.E. Rodriguez)
  • A fascinating concept, Nougat provides beautifully-written science fiction, with enough reality to scare the hell out of us” (Vikki Patis, see article here)

So why not make your summer perfect and get Forever Young?

Right now, if you live in the UK, the digital version is under promotion (at a 70% discount) – until 22 July, so hurry! If you don’t live in the UK, don’t despair, the digital price is low and the printed book can be had with a free digital version. I made sure to make the digital version free; in my opinion, this is something  that should be standard: if you buy the printed book, you should always get a free digital version, it makes sense.

Now, as to why Amazon doesn’t run “countdown deals” in markets other than the US and UK, I have no idea. Not fair. I can only presume that in the near future, they will do so.

Wondering about where I took the image with my book and cappuccino? On this terrace:

That’s our house in Umbria, an old stone farm near Lake Trasimeno, one of the main settings of my previous book, Crimson Clouds. Yes, under that umbrella, a perfect place to read a book!
Cheers and have a happy summer!

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Digital Revolution Act Two, Amazon vs. Hachette: What Future for Indies ?

The on-going Amazon-Hachette war that started in April is viewed by many as a paradigm shift. The digital revolution is not over yet and the ground is moving, major actors are re-aligning themselves. Whether Hachette or Amazon wins or loses and with what results for authors, particularly for self-published authors, remains to be seen. 

 

Bob Rector
In short, Amazon is shaking up the publishing industry and a lot of people don’t like it. I blogged about this last week, (see here), and got a remarkable comment from Bob Rector, who’s not only a talented novelist (if you haven’t read Unthinkable Consequences yet, you should) but also a successful playwright (Letters from the Front, an award-winning play that toured the world for 15 years) and a veteran film director who first became famous with “The Now Explosion“, historically the first experiment in music video.
He has a uniquely upbeat take on the changes happening to the publishing industry, no doubt because of his long experience, and I wanted to share it with you. This is what he wrote (I love his uplifting conclusion and I added the highlights): 
Claude, your blog post “The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution:Mirage or Reality?” is a very informative and sobering article that once again leaves my head spinning about the book market today. But also conjures up some memories along similar lines.
A little less than 40 years ago I jumped through these same kinds of hoops but in a different medium: film. I was part of a small production company that decided to make a low-budget feature film for theatrical distribution. The timing was right because several G-rated low-budget ‘outdoor-adventure’ films had done very well, chief among them was Grizzly Adams. The attraction to this genre for the filmmaker was that Mother Nature provided all the sets and most of the players (wildlife) for free. All you had to do was get the cast and crew to a really spectacular location and tell a reasonably entertaining story about a hero single-handedly fighting man’s abuse of nature.

I was chosen to write, direct, and edit for the simple reason that I had more experience than anyone else involved, plus I was still riding on my fame from The Now Explosion. The film was titled Nature’s Way but before its release was changed to Don’t Change My World.

We made the film for next to nothing, just like today’s indie authors produce a book. In its initial screenings audiences responded very positively but to go into wide release, we ran into the same obstacles that indie writer’s face. We weren’t MGM or Universal or 20th Century Fox and they owned the game.
The major studios had long-established relationships with movie theaters around the world, as well as marketing and distribution operations that ran like the proverbial Swiss watch. On the other hand, we were, in effect, knocking on the door of each individual theater. They didn’t want to deal with someone who only had one film to peddle and no marketing machinery behind them. We eventually did sign with a small independent distributor who managed to get our film released nationally but playing at only one or two markets at a time, so the money generated trickled in and seldom covered expenses. Plus the theaters, since they were dealing with a small fry, slow paid, and sometimes no paid, us – something they didn’t dare do with the majors. When we protested they simply said, “So sue us.”
The sad fact of life was that the audiences who saw the film loved it, but getting it in front of an audience was a constant uphill battle that cost more than we could possibly make, especially since much of the time we never saw the money that came into the box office. By the time the theater took its cut (much more severe than Amazon’s take) and the distributor took his cut (always with extra expenses added) and the advertising agencies took their cut, nothing was left (sound familiar?).
The film finally generated significant revenue when it went into non-theatrical release, primarily on cable channels like CineMax (HBO). It was also broadcast by the BBC and several other operators in Europe. The US Navy purchased a hundred or so 16mm prints for showing onboard their ships. A specialty distributor who provided inflight movies for airlines licensed its use. Same for a distributor who supplied films for college campus theaters. And finally the film was released to the newly emerging home video market. The point being, we had to search out and broker all these deals ourselves.
And the same is true for indie publishers/writers. Anybody who has been in business, whether it’s selling books or selling paper clips, knows that it’s never easy and you have to work at it continuously.
Selling is ALWAYS job one. During the 15 years we toured our play Letters From the Front around the world, selling and marketing was a nonstop daily job – and I mean every single day.
So I guess I come to this issue with a little different and perhaps more cynical (based on experience) but realistic perspective.
If there’s money to be made, then big money is going to control the market. Always. Never been any different since the beginning of commerce. Might makes right.
Will fair play come into play? Don’t count on it.
The question to indie writers/publishers is: what are you going to do about it? Throw up your hands and say the deck is stacked and I don’t stand a chance so to hell with it? Or, I have right on my side but I can’t win so I might as well not play? Are you going to take Amazon and the other major players to court and sue them for what you believe are unfair practices? Good luck. They each have teams of lawyers just waiting to bury you.
Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m being dark or negative, please don’t.
As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (although why anybody would want to baffles me). Most of my professional life has been spent finding alternate routes around established institutions, with varying degrees of success. My first rule is to never let somebody else define my pathway to success. If I’m going to fail, I want to fail on my own terms. As far as indie publishing is concerned, my wife (a fellow author) and I are still experimenting and searching out alternative paths. It will take time but it always does. I’m confident that we’ll find a way that works for us. We’ve done it many times before.
The threshold we’re shooting for is not just to make money for ourselves, but to make money for somebody else, preferably a large well-funded organization. That’s what we’ve done before. We found a way to make money for major companies with our product, lots of money. Then they started writing checks to us, big checks. I’m not saying this is the only path. We’re all supposed to be creative people — so be creative about this too!
To be exceedingly trite, we don’t look at this as a problem, we look at it as an opportunity. A huge ground-floor opportunity. And we don’t expect anybody or any organization to do the heavy lifting for us. Maybe we’re naive. We’ll see.
Letters From the Front stars Bobbi Kravis and Bob Curren meet with troops at Ft. Lee, VA after a performance and distribute free letter writing kits (source: “Why Letters from the Front is so important today”, click here

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Audio-Books – The Next Big Thing For Indies

claudenougat:

Excellent overview of the audio-book market. But don’t kid yourself, it’s not easy to do and it absolutely NEEDS to sound professional or else it’s a no-starter…

Originally posted on Ebook Bargains UK Blog:

Go Global In 2014

The American Librarian Association Annual Conference has been noting the very clear upward trend in audiobook (a-book) downloads. It’s something we should all be looking at very closely, because it presents enormous opportunities for indie authors willing to step outside the sheltered world of ebooks and Amazon.

Obviously Amazon’s Audible ACX package is the go-to place for indies contemplating a-books, and no question they make it relatively easy – but don’t expect to get rich off the proceeds. We all know how they recently slashed royalties for indie authors.

Even authors who have gone the DIY route and used their own resources to professionally create a-books are finding the Amazon option to distribute leaves much to be desired. Especially of you make the mistake of locking yourself into their exclusive programme.

Not here to look at alternatives to ACX (that’s another post another time) or the very real possibility of…

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How to Use Instagram, the New Visual Twitter

Instagram, born yesterday – October 2010 – , is already a giant, over 200 million users busily sharing pictures in that weird square format typical of antiquated Polaroid photos.

When Facebook bought it in April 2012, paying one billion dollars in stock and cash, it knew what it was doing! In 2013, Instagram grew at a fast-clip 23% while Facebook crawled at 3%.

Twitter has only recently woken up to the need of sharing pictures and video clips – hence its purchase of Vine – but it looks like it might have woken up too late…

And sharing pictures on Twitter is not anywhere as easy as it is on Instagram.The user experience is very different: with Instagram, the picture leads you in, not the tweet.

Indeed, Instagram looks like it’s on its way to dislodge Twitter - essentially because it responds so much better to the visual needs of the younger generation, Millennials and under.

Even a Baby Boomer like myself is beginning to catch on, take a look at my Instagram account (upper right corner) and my “likes” (press that heart!), like on this photo:

We’ve all heard that the future of marketing is “visual”. Hence, PINTEREST and Instagram have risen to the fore in marketers’ strategies (see articles below).

As far as I can tell, few writers seemed to have caught on – though I suspect the younger ones among us already have. Here’s an example of how one writer uses it:

A screen shot of her book on Amazon, a short description to say that this book has achieved best seller status, a link to buy it et voilà!
Sounds good and easy-to-do (if a little pedestrian)?

Yes, it is. All you need is a smartphone (no, you can’t do it from your computer) and you need to take pictures with it. Actually, it’s fun, you can play with the Instagram-provided filters and come up with cool-looking pictures in a matter of seconds.

Then, throw in the picture description and appropriate hashtags, just like on Twitter, and you’re done. Since June 2013, there’s even a video-sharing feature (up to 5 seconds clips) – presumably a move to counteract the fast rise of Vine. 

But…but, yes, there’s always a “but”. If you’re going to sell your book outright, you won’t get far.

Just look at that screen shot of the book above, it only got 9 likes (including mine). On the other hand, if you build up a reputation for good, interesting pictures that don’t aim to sell anything in particular, you get loads of “likes”, like this one (I just picked one at random):


Yes, that got over 1,660 “likes”. And some people are so successful on Instagram that they get multiples of that for some of their images…

Some Instagram users also do eventually sell what they make, for example pieces of jewelry. Selling books? Maybe, if anyone of you has managed that, please share your experience with us!

Just one last point: hashtags. 

They’re like on Twitter and since you’re not limited with the number of characters, you can just add them on and on, to get to a wider audience and obtain more “likes”. Hashtags are also fun, anything playful goes: #selfie, #pretty, #traveljunkie etc. How to behave like a teenager is beautifully explained in this Business Insider article here

Though, as pointed out in that article, it won’t win you followers if you start playing “I-follow-you/you-follow-me” then “I-unfollow-you” games just to gain followers and show how popular you are.  That’s the teenage approach: a lot of followers make you feel important with your friends. But followers gained that way are a mirage…

Also, remember Instagram is NOT integrated with Twitter: they decoupled the day Facebook bought them, now they are rivals and you won’t be able to tweet links to your Instagram photos. Ah, the joys of the Net!

Still, just like on Facebook, you can make comments:

And that’s a good way to connect – even if a little superficial. But don’t look for deep meaning, after all, these are just pictures.

You know what’s Instagram’s secret for success?

It’s just plain….fun!

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What’s Wrong with the UN Security Council

Here’s another article about the UN I wrote for the magazine Impakter under my real name: (published on 9 June, 2014) – after all, after 25 years of service in the United Nations, I believe I know a thing or two about it! Enjoy and let me know what you think!
 

What’s wrong with the UN Security Council

To an idle observer dropping in from Outer Space, the UN Security Council is the strongest organ of the United Nations.

Tasked with maintaining peace among nations, it has been given weapons of war. When it passes a resolution, it can send troops, the blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers or “blue berets”, and force peace on belligerents. Blue berets belong to member nations’ armies, but taken together, they constitute a hefty, permanent UN force.

At this point in time, over 110,000 military personnel are permanently deployed around the world in “hot spots”, currently in 15 “missions”.

This level of intervention dates to the collapse of the Soviet Union (1988): the number of resolutions doubled, the peace-keeping budget increased by a factor of ten. So far, there have been eight major missions, with only two notable failures, Somalia and Bosnia. A respectable record nonetheless. The biggest failure however was caused by lack of intervention. This happened in 1994, when one of History’s worst genocide was perpetrated in Rwanda.
UN Security Council debate on Rwanda, June 1994. Photo credit UN photo Milton Grant
UN Security Council Meets on Rwanda 08 June 1994

 
The Security Council can do more than send troops….

TO READ THE REST, CLICK HERE.

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