Tag Archives: Amazon Kindle

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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Amazon’s Latest Gimmick, the Book Countdown Deal: Does it Work?

SalesThe idea of a book countdown is fun: set the price at the lowest level allowed on Amazon, 99 cents, and watch it rise each day by one dollar – until it’s back to the original price. There is an element of game betting: you, as the customer, have to beat the clock in order to win.
I recently tried it for my book “Luna Rising, the Full Saga“, as those of you who receive my newsletter know. I thought that no matter what happened, it wouldn’t hurt. This was a book that I had just published at the beginning of the year, a re-edition of an earlier novel (totally re-written and with a new cover), and it was sitting dead in digital dust. It obviously needed some kind of boost.

Starting Thursday 27 February, the countdown was launched and by Saturday morning March 1st, this is what my book detail page looked like:

Wow, it ranked number 55 in the top 100 fiction ebooks in the category…”Metaphysical”! But wait a minute, what on earth is “metaphysical fiction” and who would ever want to read it??

I thought I had used the term “visionary” when I had uploaded my book on Amazon but it seems it goes together with “metaphysical”…I controlled what it was, searching the Kindle Store for “metaphysical fiction” and found over 5,000 titles (see here), ranging from science fiction to black magic, but also world masterpieces, like Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”. So I shouldn’t complain, I’m in good company! A pity I didn’t stay long in the hallowed top 100: just a couple of days…

In a way, “metaphysical” made sense, and I learned right there something about what might sell my book. That’s useful, considering it is undoubtedly a hard sell even though it is perhaps one of my best books, mainly because it is “cross genre”. It starts out as a paranormal romance and ends as a techno-thriller (!).

In the process, I learned a few interesting things:

  • Make sure you plan your marketing around it ahead of time. I didn’t do a very good job of it, I only put my book up on three sites paying for the ad and as far as I can see, those ads didn’t drive any sales. The sales I got seemed to have been triggered by my newsletter; however, this was the first time I used it (if you’re interested in receiving it, the sign-up form is on this page, upper right corner – no spam, only information about upcoming deals and events like a new book release). In spite of this, 46.4% almost half the subscribers opened the letter and 3.6% clicked through to the title. Compared to an industry average of a 17.7 % and 2.5% respectively, I suppose I should feel satisfied (though I suspect that writers, once they’ve got a properly running newsletter, manage to get much higher click rates from their fans than I did, I’m still too new at this).
  • Schedule your Countdown Deal in the middle of the week. Just like the number of views on a blog, your sales inevitably slow down on the week-end as people go out and enjoy life rather than the Internet (I scheduled to finish on a Sunday and that was probably a mistake);
  • Don’t forget to tick the UK box otherwise it will run only in the United States. This is very annoying, I didn’t see that box, and all my efforts went to nought in the UK. I thought I could start again the following week with another promotion just for my British friends but that is not the case: only one promotion is allowed every three months and I’ve used up my chance for this 3-month period!
  • Be aware that you won’t see what it looks like on your book detail page if you live outside the US or the UK (like I do). You can only follow what happens from your KDP dashboard and of course the (hourly) change in ranking on your book detail page. I contacted Amazon and they told me how I could look at it, by logging out of my account, and re-entering from “outside”, scrolling down to the very bottom of the page to find the Amazon US market box and click on it. Sounds easy but…At the bottom of the page you see all the Amazon markets across the world except the US!

The biggest unknown in the Countdown Deal is the fallout: what effect it has on follow-up sales and on your other titles once it’s over. I suspect the fallout may be quite large for established writers with lots of fans online; in my case it was limited. Especially if you compare it to the free promotions I did two year ago that triggered thousands of downloads.

This was very different.The sales were disappointing and didn’t continue beyond a few days. Also there was no effect on my other titles.  One unexpected result: it stimulated the sales of the printed version (no doubt why it turns up as #99 in books, see screen shot). What’s interesting about that is that the printed version of the book was not under promotion.

This suggests that:

  • we’re in a very different digital world from two years ago when free promotions drove sales; ebooks no longer sell like hot cakes;
  • the advantage of a Countdown Deal is that it draws attention to the book, regardless of price. It’s probably not so much the limited discount that works as the novelty of the formula and the “game” aspect.

There is little doubt that promotions centered on giving out free books (or low priced books) no longer work: we’ve all got our e-readers overflowing with free books. Clearly something else is needed to give a boost to sales. In that respect the Countdown Deal helps.

Pity it is restricted to the US and UK markets! This is a serious limitation. When will Amazon extend it to other markets where it is present? I have readers in Australia (and other places) who contacted me because they were really annoyed at being cut out.

What is your experience with this new marketing instrument? Did you try it? Please share, I’d love to know how it went for you.

(Photo credit: smartsigns, click here.)

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Is the Amazon Ebook Market Model Broken?

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

Is Amazon about to drop self-published writers? Is there any reason why it shouldn’t if self-pubbed titles clog its Kindle Store, making it look like a hastily published slush pile? After all,  the ebook market is reportedly only worth 7% of total Amazon sales and it’s not showing much signs of growing.Yes, that’s not a typo. Ebooks sales are worth only seven percent of total sales to Amazon. Think of Amazon as a virtual WalMart – in fact, I suspect that is the real goal of Amazon, to become the biggest digital department store in the world. The publishing industry is only a side-show for Amazon.

So, if much is wrong with Amazon’s ebook market model, it is not likely that Amazon will care. And perhaps that explains the uneven performance of Amazon in foreign markets where it’s not the only player in town, by a long shot. For example, it is striking to see how Kobo is ubiquitous in Italy, it has its devices on display in most major bookstores but you don’t see Amazon’s Kindle anywhere. According to Ebook Bargains UK, Kobo has made many mistakes in expanding abroad (see first article listed below). Maybe so, but it is still doing pretty well…
Let’s list the challenges facing Amazon:
1. the payment system –  Amazon’s model for expanding abroad has proved to be antiquated; Amazon has followed the old system of expanding abroad with geographically based “offices/virtual store fronts” rather than going global digitally; this means, for example, that New Zealanders are forced to shop in its Amazon Australia beachhead. Why not have a global easy-to-pay system like Google Play (for example, they very successfully use carrier billing in the Far East)?
2. ebook subscription services and digital libraries: Amazon has ignored this new business model, presumably relying on its own Premium system – but how long will they stay out of that particular game? And if they do go in, how will the Big Five react? It’s very likely that they won’t like it and could withdraw their books from Amazon’s shelves. A conundrum for Amazon.
I’ll be honest with you, those subscription services really worry me. I’m speaking of Scribd, and Oyster, the two major subscription services and Overdrive, a digital library. The latter has managed to get one hundred million ebook downloads in 12 years, up to 2012! See here. A huge number.
That (to me) is terrifying, the start of a new trend that could change the shape of the book market forever.
The problem with an ebook is that it is not an object you hold in your hands. It’s nothing, it’s like a bubble of soap. You can’t feel a liking for it the way you might view an old book as an old friend, sitting there on your library shelf in your home. You don’t own it, it’s essentially a digital service, a permanent access to a text available up there in the cloud, somewhere on the Net.
So why own an ebook at all? Why not pay less and get access to the text for the time you need to read it?
Many authors I know are complaining about a slump in sales. This is anecdotal, I can’t prove it. My impression is that the slump which first hit the sales of new, emerging writers in early 2013 has now affected midlist authors (i.e. traditionally published authors that have recovered their rights to their backlist and systematically self-publish those out-of-print titles on Amazon).  These are the very writers who were most successful in the Kindle Store, hitting (at least for a short time) the top 100 rank with every new title they uploaded. They could count on their fans to buy their new titles. Well, it seems they no longer do; 2013 was a stagnant year for many.
Where have all the fans gone? Who knows. But the expansion of subscription services and digital libraries surely acts as a syphon on the market. You as an author may get better known to many more readers thanks to such services, but you are also likely to make a lot less money in future. To what extent this will happen cannot be foretold.
Let’s look at possible solutions.   
One thing that could be done is to fix the Kindle Store. And re-organize good gate-keeping systems to help in book discovery and let “the cream rise to the top”.
For the time being, the way things are in the Kindle Store, the cream cannot rise to the top. And the reason is very simple and can be told in one word: rankings!
To understand why this is so, let’s look first at what’s happened in the environment. Since 2012, the ebook market has changed dramatically. First, the settling of the DOJ case against Apple and the way that has played out seems to have calmed the nerves of the (now) Big Five. They have become more aggressive with their pricing, slowly but surely edging out indies.  Price was the self-published writer’s biggest weapon, it no longer is. We all know that “free” doesn’t work anymore and I fear that “cheap” doesn’t work either. Books under $9 scream out to the readers “beware, this is a self-published work likely to be full of typos and badly structured”.

And then there’s the matter of sheer volume of published titles. The tsunami of self-pubbed authors has totally changed the environement. I know what I’m talking about, some of my books, like the earlier ones I published are buried under one million books or more! Literally buried under and forgotten. That’s because Amazon publishes everyone’s ranking. I’ve complained about this before and done so publicly on this blog only to get comments from indies like “Oh, but nobody pays attention to ranking”. That may have been true once but it no longer is. Readers are savvy and they’ve learned how to navigate Amazon’s Kindle Store. Readers do look at rankings, I’m convinced of it. And the theory that “quality books rise to the top like cream” is a non-starter. How can they rise if readers before buying glance at the ranking and decide it’s not worth buying because the book is sitting down there at the bottom of the ocean of published books?

In other words, the Amazon environment has become toxic. Even Kobo, the latest one on the Big Boys scene, also exhibits rankings. BIG mistake. Rankings should be reserved for the top 100 selling titles, maybe the top 1000 but no more! Then, and only then, if your book is good, you might have a fighting chance to rise with good reviews

If you still have doubts, take a look at the ranking of books that you know for a fact are good. I’ll do it here with just one book as an example, but do take time to navigate the Kindle Store and you will see. The example I want to use here is Amelie Nothomb’s “Fear and Trembling” (see here). Now this is easily a masterpiece of French literature, one of the best books published in the last 15 years. She’s a huge success with young adults, hardly your dowdy old writer. And it is probably the best book she ever wrote, lively, fun, suspenseful, not at all a high-brow literary bore. Yet, in the Kindle Store she is sitting at a ranking around the 300,000th range and has only 46 reviews!! This says a lot about the Amazon environment…

Speaking of reviews…What is truly missing is a gatekeeper system to keep out poorly edited books and help readers find quality reads. Amazon regularly makes efforts to improve its customer review system and sweeps out reviews that are deemed misleading (the famous “sockpuppet” reviews). Unfortunately, when Amazon does that, it creates a lot of discontent among writers and doesn’t really solve the problem.

Perhaps what Amazon should do is set up a two-tier system, with customer reviews and expert critiques.

Most customer reviews are not professional in the sense that they are not comprehensive reviews touching on all aspects of a book (i.e. character development, plot structure, POVs and writing techniques etc).

They are merely opinions written by readers.

Don’t misunderstand me. That is how it should be: a customer has a right to voice his/her likes and dislikes and we authors are very happy when they do, we love to be in touch with our readers! That’s one of the best things about the digital revolution: it has given us, writers, the possibility to be close to our readers and that’s wonderful. But a customer review is not the same as a professional critique, fully structured and substantiated by evidence and references to literary criteria.

This suggests that there is space for two different types of reviews, the customer reviews and the literary critiques. And perhaps an online website linked to Amazon should collect all those critiques and list them for each title…It could be a start towards a system to guide readers to the better reads and finally allow the “cream to rise to the top”.

Any other ideas?

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Is Amazon Supremacy in eBooks Threatened?

Wow, super star Bella Andre has given full confidence to, no…Not Amazon Kindle Select but Kobo!

See here:

For me, this is surprising news. I’ve always thought of Amazon as the giant e-retailer whose supremacy could not be threatened – not yet and not for a long time. I guess I was wrong.

What we have here is a David vs. Goliath fight, who will win?

As the savvy chaps at Ebook Bargains UK write (see here), the deal is “only for three months, and it’s for five French-translated titles, but she could just as easily have gone into Select and gone exclusive for three months with Amazon France. This is very a big-selling indie author. One of the indie super-stars. The fact that she’s gone exclusive with Kobo when she could take her pick of any of the big retailers and get similar terms is worth pondering.”

What they suggest is that “if you spend 90% of your time promoting Amazon listings, are in and out of Select, and all your links on your blog, website, email header, etc, etc, are to Amazon then you have only yourself to blame for the readers you are not reaching.” (highlight added)

Right so. Are you linking to other places than Amazon? I know I’m guilty of relying on Amazon up to 90%, and in some cases 100%.

How about you?

Post-scriptum: I was wondering why Bella Andre might have signed up that exclusive with Kobo and a little check on the Net turned up some very interesting facts (see here, an illuminating Jeremy Greenfield article in Forbes.com dated August 2013). 

In the US, Kobo is minuscule (around 3% of the ebook market) but abroad it’s doing well, particularly in Canada and Japan but also Brazil and India, both fast-growing huge markets. But, compared to Amazon, what Kobo is doing that is different is:
1. establish a physical on-the-ground presence (it has just signed up with 500 American booksellers and it is certainly present in bookstores here where I live, Italy).
2. focus on readers and e-readers – the reader experience is at the heart of their ethos, or so they say, whereas, as we all know, Amazon sells all sorts of things besides books. 

Whatever…Kobo must be doing something right! I have no doubts that in France a lot of people read books on Kobo devices – no question, that is probably the bet Bella Andre made when she signed up with them. 

Related articles

Kobo is Expanding in All Directions – Drops Hints of a Russian Kobo Store & Signs New Bookstore Partner in Spain(the-digital-reader.com)

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Is Traditional Publishing Headed for a Smash-up?

Smash

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Dear Readers,

Some of you may know me from my site on blogspot.com and I’ll try to keep you posted on both sites, with comments on politics, books, art (everything I like) and economics (everything I dislike!) – in short, our world as I see it. But since this is just a bunch of personal opinions, you’re most welcome to shoot them down!

I love a rousing discussion!

Here is my take on what is happening to the publishing world as it has to face (and survive) the tsunami of the digital revolution…If you disagree, please make comments!

The sales of e-books have outpaced printed books for the first time this year at Amazon, the number one on line bookseller in the world. People are talking about the digital revolution being something as big, nay, BIGGER than Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press around 1440.  We’re into a new age, the possibilities are infinite, everything will change!

Does that mean that the printed book is dead and that traditional publishers are on their way out?

No, I don’t believe so. I am convinced the future of publishing is anything but bleak! By the way, I’m looking at it as an economist and political analyst – not as an aspiring fiction writer (which I also happen to be, but that’s incidental – for that matter, I’m also a painter – which has nothing to do with the argument at hand…).  I just wanted to point out that I’m trying to evaluate the situation in a detached, scientific way (hum, gasp, cough).

The first thing to realize is that e-books are NOT going to eat into the current market. The pie, with the advent of digital titles, will expand. E-books will add to the book market in general, bringing in lots of new readers – people who after a first jolly experience on their i-pad or kindle will go on to buy paper books for the first time in their lives! And remember, digital editions are forever. They’re not like printed books, sitting on your local bookstores shelves for a few weeks and then gone. E-books are FOREVER! Which means they are accessible, ready to be downloaded on your e-reader anytime. You don’t have to go to the book store to order and then wait for the book to be sent by mail. No, e-books are just a click away!

Second, as with any BIG change in an industry’s parameters, expect a wave of bankruptcies and consolidations. The biggest bookstore in the US, Borders, has gone into receivership which means, inter alia, that traditional publishers have lost miles of physical shelf space for their books. Talk of a tsunami! You can expect that over the next few years, even the Big 6 (the main American publishers) will have to reconsider their marketing strategies, their costs and do everything they can to ensure their survival – perhaps even move out (gasp!) of Manhattan! And expect some to go under. That may not be fun for those involved, but it’s physiological. When structural change comes to an industry, only the fittest survive.

Bookstores, however, are at this moment taking the brunt of the storm (as shown by Borders). They need to react ASAP and become more imaginative to turn themselves into welcoming places, like Starbucks and provide coffee to attract clients or organize conferences and local contests to engage the community. There are a number of bookstores of that sort in Europe, places that straddle the Internet and offer a haven to the local community, and they seem to prosper.  Advisory services could also be provided to their clients, things like advice on e-readers, the best apps, and help them locate interesting stuff to read on Internet – that is, turn themselves into “gatekeepers” of sorts, to guide people in the jungle of e-books.

Because it’s fast becoming a jungle: there are lots and lots of titles out there. If you look at the top 100 best-selling titles on Kindle, you’ll be amazed at the BIG proportion of self-published books – I didn’t count, but at a glance, it’s much more than half! To find “good” authors (in the sense of “good read”) is becoming a well-nigh impossible enterprise. I know because I do that repeatedly for my mother who’s 97 and an avid reader (she loves her Kindle). You get the feeling that the famous “slush pile”, all those manuscripts rejected by publishers and literary agents as “unfit to print”, all of them are suddenly on sale. And, perhaps more surprisingly, they are finding customers! Yes, people do buy these books! Sure, they’re priced at $O.99 so that’s probably why people buy them. But the more successful e-authors who started at that price, have found they could jack up their price to $2.99 and more (but always well under the $9.90 borderline established by traditional publishers) and still make money…in spite of the lack of editing, poor plot structure and typos… Which goes to show that a good yarn sells more easily than “literature”.

That may be a depressing thought for some but it’s definitely a golden opportunity for others: with the expansion of the book market, a lot of “unsophisticated” first-time readers have been drawn in, and they’re the sort of people who enjoy a good story and don’t care too much about how it’s told.

This means that one of the traditional roles of publishers of printed books, i.e. being “gatekeepers” to ensure a “minimum” level of “quality”, has been seriously weakened and others could jump in the void. Magazines and papers and blogs with a big following that review books are doing that job now, but why not bookstores? And the big bookstore chains could consider providing print-on-demand services for all things digital. Indeed, that’s where the real competition for printed books might yet come from…

To sum up: with the digital revolution, everybody’s role is changing, and it’s not just bookstores that have to rethink themselves. Publishers also need to reconsider their role. They often give the impression of being on the defensive as they progressively tighten their contracts with writers and lower advances. Six-digit figures are a rarity nowadays. Publishers even cut advances up in 4 parts, meant to follow the different stages in the publishing process, and that means you  get only 1/4th of your “advance” upon signing the contract.  Sure, this is a tough business, they try to get the most out of every deal. But writers are publishers’ natural allies: writing is the source of their business. So publishers need to realize that if they stop scraping authors naked, and instead treat them right, they will make of them faithful allies. I am willing to bet that the first publishers who realize this will see their prospects turn for the better real fast. And the first thing they should consider doing is giving authors a better deal on e-book royalties and making a better job of providing supportive book marketing. Because in this Internet age, the buzz word is king, and authors, through such important blogs as Writer Beware learn real soon who are the publishers to avoid…

Because e-rights are forever and more and more writers are realizing this. And more and more are unwilling to give up returns on their books forever  when all the publishers have done is a one-time investment in them. After all, the money you have to put up front to get yourself e-published is relatively small – just about anyone can afford to do it. Of course, not everyone has the necessary on line presence and the desire to spend all that time into marketing one’s book.

Most writers would still prefer to spend most of their time writing…

So there’s a glimmer of hope for traditional or “legacy publishers”. There will be more Amanda Hockings who after establishing themselves as self-published wonders (she made one million dollars in her first year of digital self-publishing), will be coming back into their fold. And there will be probably fewer Barry Eisler walking away from them. Remember him? He is that feisty writer who refused a $ 500,000 advance from St.Martin’s Press for two books. But then, on closer examination, it wasn’t really such a good deal: $250,000 per book minus the 15% going to his agent, plus the fact that he’d get next to nothing for his e-rights. And, remember, e-rights are forever!

The real challenge for legacy publishers will be the midlist authors who can make a big buck turning their back list into e-books. Joe Konrath‘s success is an example for all midlist writers. Publishers will just have to figure out a way to get into that juicy market – and they won’t get into it unless they bend their position on e-rights. They want too much for far too long. They really should consider another model, for example putting a time frame on e-rights and allow authors to regain them after, say, 5 years, but – and that’s an important “but” – with a renewal clause for another 5 years on condition that the publisher agrees to engage in some additional marketing. That would encourage writers to sign up with them rather than go the self-publishing e-route.

AND they need to provide a service of value to the authors, in particular marketing support (that’s something writers normally don’t like to do: if you’re a writer, let’s face it, you’re an introvert, you really don’t have a salesman personality…) Publishers could easily make sure their authors get reviews, and not any kind of reviews, but good ones from respected reviewers with a known and proven following.

And they could consider doing something else too, something no one talks about much because it’s scary: I’m referring to piracy. Yes, publishers could try and provide more effective means to fight off piracy. Individual authors are not well-placed to defend themselves and few are internet-savvy. To fight off piracy requires experts. Pirates – I mean hackers – are getting better all the time and a lot of people out there, a writer’s regular readers, don’t even think that downloading a book for free is a form of criminal offense. The author has sweated over writing his book and deserves a fair $ return for his pains. Let’s face it, pirate are pirates and should be jailed. Now, in the digital world, that’s hard to do and it requires huge means to properly police the Internet. And it means publishers and e-book sellers will have to work together.

Because, let’s face it, the biggest danger the digital revolution brings to the publishing industry is PIRACY! It might yet bring together everybody: Amazon.com, traditional bookstores, e-book platforms and publishers, both those into “legacy” publishing and e-books, for the greater good of authors and their readers…But then I’m an incorrigible optimist!


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