Posts tagged epublishing
Spent an hour alternating catching up on some emails with working on Starship edits. Then I made dinner for the family.
After dinner, it was back to work for a little while; then a break at 9pm to watch a show with my wife, then briefly back to work again. Didn’t have the stamina to stay writing for too long. Just feeling very burned out today. Not burned out on the writing – wish I had more energy for it, honestly. But I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open, so I think it’s time to call a stop.
Up again in the morning.
Some days are just going to be like this. Overtired, worn out, and needing sleep.
The idea with those days is to keep adding at least a few more drops to the cup. Because those drops WILL add up, in time.
Totals for Day 11
Daily Fiction Wordcount: 500 words Month to date fiction: 15850 words
Daily Blog Post Wordcount: 182 words Month to date blog posts: 6898 words
Self publishing is an outstanding way to go. Dean Wesley Smith has just sounded off that his position is now that for novels, self publishing is a better method than traditional publishing unless you’re being offered a solid six figures per book. And possibly even then, depending upon the contract clauses the traditional publisher is trying to force on the writer.
However, there are a ton of scam companies out there trying to make money from writers who are struggling to learn about this whole self publishing thing. I don’t use the term lightly. Merrian-Webster defines a “scam” as a “a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation.” Which is exactly what these companies do. They take enormous sums up front, then take 50-90% of the income off book sales, and they present a polished appearance as a “self publishing help” company, attempting to make writers believe their deals are some sort of standard.
Not everyone wants to do their own ebook or print book formatting. Some writers can; others hire these tasks out. And hiring these tasks out IS an acceptable way of doing business. But there are legit companies doing this sort of work – and scams which will do the same work, but take you to the cleaners in the process.
Here’s some rules to avoid getting skinned as you’re learning the ropes:
Rule #1: Upload your own PDF files directly to the printer. Printer might be Createspace, Lightning Source, Lulu, or some other printer. Upload your work to YOUR account. Always.
Rule #2: If buying copies of your book cost more than Lightning Source charges for printing, you are being ripped off. Lightning Source charges 1.3 cents per page plus 90 cents per book, so a 300 page book costs $4.80. If a company is charging more than that for author copies, PASS.
Rule #3: Printer you upload to MUST distribute directly to the Ingrams Catalog, and MUST handle fulfillment without your needing to do anything. Createspace and Lightning Source both do this.
Rule #4: If you are hiring out the cover art, interior print book design, and/or ebook conversion, you should pay ONE TIME fees only. They should give you the finished work. You should upload the finished work yourself. That means setting up your own Createspace or Lightning Source account for the print book upload (upload interior PDF and cover PDF). It means creating your own KDP, Pubit, Smashwords, and maybe Apple accounts for uploading the mobi (KDP), DOC (Smashwords), and epub (everybody else) files.
If someone is taking money from you for editing, for covers, for interior design, for ebook conversion, or for any other publishing related services, and is then uploading the book to THEIR account, they are a scam. If you use them, you are being scammed.
This is a scam because they are billing you up front (legit) and also taking the majority of your income on sales.
It is the equivalent of there being two auto mechanics. One charges a flat fee for replacing brakes and lets you go on your way. The other charges you the same flat fee and additionally charges you a penny every time you tap the brakes.
Which mechanic would you want to use?
Don’t throw your money away. Get services from someone who charges you for the work, GIVES YOU the files, and then you upload those files.
I know we have some experienced self publishers who visit here. What other rules would you suggest novices can follow to navigate around the scams and find good providers? Any service providers you know that you’d especially recommend?
I am forced to wonder, after reading this latest interview with the noted president of the Author’s Guild, if the man has actually a) bought any books in the last decade, b) listened to any of the writers he is supposed to be supporting about what they’d actually like, or c) thought for fifteen seconds about what spills from his fingers onto a computer screen before pressing “send” on interview questions.
Because frankly, what he wrote “don’t make no sense”. But here’s the article, so you can see the whole bit yourself.
I hate to beat on the guy twice in a row, but really – I don’t understand why someone who so obviously lacks even a basic grasp of the industry is in a position he’s in.
Examples of inanity:
The Guild’s beefs with Amazon became pronounced over the issue of the resale of new titles some years ago. This was something that Amazon pioneered. They would sell you a [just-released] book on Day One, buy it back from you on Day Two, and then resell it to another customer on Day Three. This was legal, but certainly not what anybody ever intended.
Traditionally, in hardcover, that’s been basically a split of the proceeds between the author and publisher. (An aside: That’s something we’re fighting with publishers about in the digital world.) So Amazon decides to go into competition with the publishers by reselling the book they just bought. The publisher gets paid nothing, and neither does the author. It’s a pure profit for Amazon.
Now, the reason you don’t see used bookstores within new bookstores is that the used books compete with the new books and the publishers supplying the new books would object.
OK, wait a sec here. My local B&N has had a HUGE used book section for as long as I can remember. They’ve been doing this longer than Amazon has been around. Not only that, but this is not an uncommon practice at B&N superstores. And yes, Scott, they are quite happy to buy back the hardcover I bought a couple of weeks ago (for a fraction of the price) and resell it at a profit.
This isn’t some new gimmick Amazon came up with. B&N has been doing it since before there was an Amazon.
Leaving aside the fact that this sort of buy back for books was not an Amazon innovation, there’s also the bit that this is not unique to books. Video game stores have been doing buybacks for as long as Gamestop and EB Games have been around. And while they’re not doing as well as they once were, that has more to do with game-buying moving online (shipped to your home) than it does any buyback system. Those game stores make a huge profit reselling used games, yet video games as an industry are still a booming business.
Amazon bought a POD service called BookSurge. Then they informed their customers — university presses and some other publishers who the Guild had organized to do POD for Authors Guild members — that they would not list their books on Amazon’s site unless they paid BookSurge more for their services.
True or false, Scott?
Amazon did buy BookSurge, but has consistently LOWERED prices for their services. In fact, Amazon now offers print on demand services through Createspace for less cost than any other POD printer in the US. I know. I’ve looked. Nobody else is even coming close except Lightning Source (an Ingrams company), and they cost more than Createspace.
Amazon taking over BookSurge was a huge boon to the small press industry.
So Amazon says, “We’ll pay you the same amount we pay you on a hardcover.” So publishers think that sounds fine, how can they complain about that? They agree and are then stunned when Amazon announces that they’re going to sell every e-book at a loss, for $9.99. That’s an average loss of $4 to $5 a book.
Why would Amazon do that?
I suppose they could argue they were doing it to sell devices and that may well have been one of their intentions. It had the additional benefit of making it much harder for any of their competitors to enter the market.
So, let’s see. Publishers make the same income. Writers make the same income. Amazon offers books at a loss to them, in order to build market share.
Why is this a problem?
First off, the only people losing money on those sales was Amazon.
Second, anyone else was free to copy their model, lose money on sales, and compete. Since we’re talking about ebooks here, the big competitors are B&N (who could have done the same thing – less depth of pockets would have stopped SOME of it, but they could have competed well with some work), Apple, and Google. OK, B&N might have had some rough times. But Google and Apple both have MUCH deeper pockets than Amazon. Trying to say they could not compete with Amazon’s price cuts is a little ridiculous. Of course they could.
The real issue involved was that publishers were afraid hardcover sales would crash; and they had too much invested in the print infrastructure, and could not afford to have that happen. Thus, price protectionism was initiated.
The stunning thing here is that Turow is favoring the publishers’ move to agency pricing, which cost both publishers and the authors he is supposed to be representing tens of millions of dollars. Because when they went to agency, the publishers involved gave up income on books. The publishers earned less; therefore the writers earned less. The publishers were happy to soak that loss to retain print sales. The writers - and the Author’s Guild – ought to have been outraged.
Most writers are.
You couldn’t read all those books you bought from Amazon on a competitor’s device — you can now, if you have an iPad, but you couldn’t then.
Yeah, actually, you could. The Kindle iPhone app appeared in March 2009. The app also worked on the iPad, when it was released a year later. Yes, the iOS Kindle app was around for a year before the iPad existed. No, Scott Turow has no idea what he is talking about. Again.
Barnes and Noble developed the nook because they really had no choice but to compete with Amazon.
No, B&N created the Nook because they recognized that ebooks were going to largely supplant print. They realized this belatedly, and were therefore well behind the curve. If B&N had been more on the ball, and launched before Kindle, we might have had a 90% Nook majority in the early market, retaining 65% today, and Kindle in the minority, rather than the other way around. Firstcomer to new tech is a big advantage, and Amazon was the company to first create an outstanding combination of retail platform and decent device.
One way that 25 percent of net became the standard royalty for e-books was because publishers said, “We all know they can’t go on selling e-books at a loss forever and sooner or later this pricing structure has got to change.” They told authors they couldn’t agree to a different royalty because everyone knew that Amazon wouldn’t be paying them $14 to $15 per title indefinitely.
First off, those prices are flat out ridiculous for ebooks. There are no returns by bookstores, which account for nearly half the publisher’s share of hardcovers. There’s no print cost. There’s no shipping costs. The fixed costs all remain: but publishers should be able to produce ebooks for less than hardcovers and still pay authors a respectable amount.
To wit: there are small presses out there producing excellent ebooks and print books, with ebooks selling for about $6 a book, and giving authors 70% of net (50% of cover price). The company I am thinking of has EVERY book they produce hit the top range of the bestseller list for its genre.
If they can do that, why can’t big publishers? Feeling a little bloated, are they? Maybe time to trim some of the fat, get lean, mean, and back in the ring. Publishing was a business able to coast along for far too many decades. Honestly, it’s about time something shook things up a bit.
You’re implying that Amazon planned eventually to use the consumer’s habituation to $9.99 books to force publishers to charge Amazon lower wholesale prices for books. They’ve tried to do that recently with some small presses, removing their titles from Amazon unless the presses agree to sell their books at rock-bottom wholesale prices.
This was actually part of a question from the interviewer. No bias here. Again, false information. NO small press has had this happen. One distributor was recently refused the renewal of a contract with Amazon. They have not disclosed the deal. They have not disclosed the details at all.
But since every small press is free to publish direct to Amazon at 70% royalty on ebooks, it’s hard to see how this loss hurt any small publishers. Did it hurt that distributor? Apparently it did. But all the small presses which used to distribute with them can simply go direct to Amazon instead, cut out the distributor, and make more income – for very little (10 minutes or so per book) additional outlay of time. I feel bad for the people working at the distributor, but that is the nature of disruptive change: some business models will become invalidated. Unless distributors can think of some massive new benefits to add to the chain, or cut their fees to a fraction of what they were for print, they simply aren’t necessary for ebooks.
The other thing Amazon could have done once they had the market to themselves — and this is virtually inevitable — is that they would have raised prices to consumers.
That’s part of the less-known history behind anti-trust laws. Once a large company has spent its capital to fund predatory pricing and drive its competitors out of business, there’s no reason to keep selling for cheap. The low prices don’t last.
Right. Look, if what they’re into is maximizing profits, then if they were to have a monopoly there’d be no rationale not to use the monopoly power to increase prices to consumers. Now, if I were on the other side, working for Amazon, I’d say “Show me where I’ve done that.”
Presumably, they haven’t done it yet because they haven’t achieved the monopoly yet. Historically, that’s what monopolies always do.
First off, somehow, Turow is missing that Amazon’s market share has shrunk from over 90% to around 65% or so over the last couple of years.
Second off, can he please name examples of companies with 2/3 or so market share who suddenly raise prices?
Google has gained a 2/3 share of internet searching. Did they begin charging more? Apple has a 2/3 share of the tablet market. Did the iPad suddenly shoot up in price? Microsoft has a big share of the operating system market, but as Konrath already pointed out, they’ve gone down in price, not up (taking into account inflation) since they started selling Windows.
So what companies out there got to a 2/3 market share and then suddenly kicked the prices up?
Wait – what would happen if Amazon suddenly got to a 90% market share and then kicked up prices? Take a guess. Readers would all go someplace else.
Amazon is a market leader because they have excellent prices, excellent service, and arguably the best retail site on the internet. The constantly innovate, and they consistently work to try to bring costs to consumers DOWN. They do this because they know that the very instant they stop doing it, some smart kid is going to start a new company in their garage – just like Amazon started – and eat their lunch.
Amazon is not going to raise prices for consumers. Amazon cannot afford to raise prices for consumers. Amazon wants to keep its customers, so it will do everything in its power to keep their costs to customers as low as possible. Even if it means cutting publishers out of the loop because they are insisting on obscene prices for ebooks, and going direct to writers instead. Why do you think Kindle Direct Publishing is so important to Amazon? It’s a means to get inexpensive ebooks out there, after publishers refused to play ball.
And I think a world in which online book selling is driving bookstores out of existence is a pity.
Sad, but true. Physical bookstores can’t compete with online ones. Not just for ebooks, but for print as well. They simply can’t do it. Online bookstores are better for the consumer, or they wouldn’t be showing preference for them over physical bookstores. Like music stores and video stores and camera stores, the brick and mortar bookstore is being phased out by digital change. I feel nostalgic about it, too. But the correct move is to adapt your business model and move on. Nothing Scott, publishers, Amazon, or anyone else can do is going to save brick and mortar bookstores at this point. Books – print and ebook – are moving online. Adapt, move on.
New authors traditionally are nurtured by bookstore personnel, especially in independent bookstores. These people literally hand sell books to their customers, by saying, “I’ve read this. I think you’re going to love it.” Not to mention the fact that a bookstore is a small cultural center in a community. That’s definitely a loss.
I am left again wondering when the last time Turow bought a book was. The average B&N employee seems to be working there because it paid two bucks an hour more than McDonalds, not because of any great love for or knowledge of literature. I’m sure there are some awesome exceptions out there. But frankly? Small bookstores don’t carry enough books to compete. Big bookstores don’t have employees who care. Readers prefer shopping online: preference shown by where the numbers are shifting for sales of books.
The idea that new authors are “nurtured” by a bunch of B&N employees who’ve never heard of them or by a small bookstore owner who refuses to buy copies of non-bestselling books is ridiculous.
The idea that bookstores are an irreplaceable cultural center is only slightly less so. And that’s because some of the good ones really are. But if they ARE cultural centers, they’re likely to survive anyway, because they will have value to people, therefore people will shop there. The stores which people choose not to shop at aren’t having very much cultural value to them.
Again, my concern is for the sake of literary diversity. If the rewards to authors go down, simple economics says there will be fewer authors. It’s not that people won’t burn with the passion to write. The number of people wanting to be novelists is probably not going to decline — but certainly the number of people who are going to be able to make a living as authors is going to dramatically decrease.
Don’t worry, Scott! Right now, thanks to Amazon and their self epublishing initiative, and their lower prices for POD printing, there are more authors earning a living wage than at any previous time in human history. There are thousands of self published books selling over a thousand copies a month right now. Remarkable! Across fiction, the ebook lists are dominated by self published books. It’s thrilling! More authors writing, more diversity than ever, more writers earning a living from their work, instead of the tiny wage paid by the major publishers.
Literature is not in a decline, but a renaissance. Largely thanks to the actions of one company.
Will Amazon always be the writer’s best friend? Perhaps not. But for the last three years, they have been a staunch ally.
As for Scott Turow, I’m going to assume that the bits of libel he had printed in that interview were accidental, the result of ignorance of the industry on his part, and not actual malice. But why does the Author’s Guild continue to have as its president someone who is that ignorant of the business of publishing, and is actively campaigning against the interest of writers?
Popularity is the default index readers see when they just hop into a genre and browse. That makes it an excellent snapshot of what’s in front of readers at any given time. However, Amazon has set up the popularity algorithm to tend to favor books in the Select program, by “carrying over” a certain level of the popularity earned when a book goes free. Book goes off free, it lands on the paid list again, and as soon as it sells a little the carried over popularity catapults it up to the top of the list. That makes the Popularity listing volatile, a constantly shifting array of books.
Which is awesome for Amazon, from a sales perspective. You want your readers to see a new batch of books every time they visit. Churn is smart. But it’s not quite as good if one is collecting raw data on the state of sales – as we’ll see.
Amazon also has a Bestseller list, for ebooks, by genre. This is a much more static listing, made by compiling raw sales. It’s updated hourly, but books that get there tend to stay there for a while. So what might the difference be, if we compared Bestseller status with the constantly changing Popularity index?
To answer that question, I’ve compiled the same set of data on Amazon’s ebook bestseller list, for Science Fiction. As an added bonus, I’ve also compiled the same data (bestsellers) for fantasy. There are some interesting differences between the two data sets, as we’ll see.
As per the previous survey: EVERY attempt was made to ensure the data was as accurate as possible. Publishing companies owned by the author were counted as self publishing. Publishing companies which publish any submitted book for a fee were likewise counted as self publishing. Publishing companies which in any way vet incoming books or have a submission process were counted as traditional publishers. Whenever a question existed whether a publisher was trad or indie, I counted it as trad.
Science Fiction Top 99
When I collected this data, there was a glitched duplicate copy of “Dance of Dragons” on the top 100. The listing said unavailable, but was still showing in the top 100. Yes, we know Mr. Martin sells a lot of books. You don’t need to show us two copies of the same book in the top 100 to prove it. ;) Anyway, I simply counted the other 99 listings, rather than count the same book twice.
The breakdown was 38 (38.4%) traditionally published books and 61 (61.6%) self published books. Of the 38 traditionally published books, 22 were first published ten or more years ago; only 16 were “recent” releases.
Pricing for SF
I’ve broken out pricing again by price, and by indie/trad. I’ve wrapped prices +/- 21 cents into the corresponding $x.99 category, for simplicity.
$0.99 – Indie 22, Trad 4, Total 26 (26.3%)
$1.99 – Indie 2, Trad 0, Total 2 (2%)
$2.99 – Indie 22, Trad 2, Total 24 (24.2%)
$3.99 – Indie 5, Trad 1, Total 6 (6.1%)
$4.99 – Indie 9, Trad 5, Total 14 (14.1%)
$5.99 – Indie 1, Trad 3, Total 4 (4%)
$6.99 – Indie 0, Trad 2, Total 2 (2%)
$7.99 – Indie 0, Trad 8, Total 8 (8.1%)
$8.99 – Indie 0, Trad 2, Total 2 (2%)
$9.99 – Indie 0, Trad 2, Total 2 (2%)
$10.99 Total 0
$11.99 Indie 0, Trad 2, Total 2 (2%)
$12.99 Indie 0, Trad 2, Total 2 (2%)
$13.99 Indie 0, Trad 4, Total 4 (4%)
$14.99 Indie 0, Trad 1, Total 1 (1%)
For a visual reference:
Once again, we’re seeing solid prices from many indie publishers. The 99 cent bracket was set for only 36% of indie books. About 25% had priced their books above $2.99. It will be interesting to watch how that pricing trend continues into the future.
Overall, while indies maintained a solid lead in the bestseller list (61 of 99 books), they lacked the complete dominance seen in the Popularity index – likely due to decreased influence of the Select free periods. Good information to have.
Fantasy Top 100
The fantasy results were substantially different from science fiction – surprising on the surface, given that the two genres are often merged in bookstores, and are part of the same category on Amazon. But fantasy readers showed a marked lack of attention for older works of fantasy. Of the 47 traditionally published titles, only four were first published over ten years ago. Over 90% of trad pub fantasy bestsellers were relatively recent books.
Overall, self published books represented only 53 of the top 100 books, substantially less than we saw in science fiction.
As we’ll see, fantasy readers also showed substantially more tolerance for higher prices, both from indies and from traditional publishers. The lack of indie writer dominance in this genre is probably related to this price tolerance.
I’ve broken out pricing again by price, and by indie/trad. I’ve wrapped prices +/- 21 cents into the corresponding $x.99 category, for simplicity. Additionally, one $2.51 book was counted as $2.99 (indie) and one $7.39 book was counted as $6.99 (trad).
$0.99 – Indie 13, Trad 0, Total 13 (13%)
$1.99 – Indie 2, Trad 0, Total 2 (2%)
$2.99 – Indie 23, Trad 0, Total 23 (23%)
$3.99 – Indie 12, Trad 0, Total 12 (12%)
$4.99 – Indie 2, Trad 1, Total 3 (3%)
$5.99 – Indie 0, Trad 0, Total 0 (0%)
$6.99 – Indie 0, Trad 1, Total 1 (1%)
$7.99 – Indie 0, Trad 20, Total 20 (20%)
$8.99 – Indie 1, Trad 11, Total 11 (11%)
$9.99 – Indie 0, Trad 3, Total 3 (3%)
$10.99 Total 0
$11.99 Indie 0, Trad 1, Total 1 (1%)
$12.99 Indie 0, Trad 6, Total 6 (6%)
$13.99 Indie 0, Trad 0, Total 0 (0%)
$14.99 Indie 0, Trad 3, Total 3 (3%)
$29.99 Indie 0, Trad 1, Total 1 (1%) (Martin boxed set)
For a visual reference:
This is a really interesting graph. What we see is a clear divide down the middle, with almost no overlap. On the one side, indie writers publishing mostly at the 99 cent, $2.99, and $3.99 price points. On the other, traditionally published books dominated by $7.99 and $8.99 pricing, with a scattering of higher numbers in sufficient density to be statistically significant.
Clearly there’s a higher tolerance for steeper prices in this genre. It’s likely that indies could raise prices somewhat and still be effective sellers in fantasy. The steep valley sitting between the blue and red cliffs represents a potential area of additional profit for fantasy writers.
I intend to do more of these surveys down the road. Watching the changes over time will be interesting, and I believe it will help empower writers to make better, more informed decisions about their publishing options and pricing of their products.
It’s clear that there is substantial variance from genre to genre. Even in two genres typically seen as related, even overlapping, the data showed a large difference in both indie market share and in popular price points. Other genres will likely have their own secrets to reveal.
Lastly, while it appears that bestsellers are not dominated by indies to quite the degree the Popularity index suggested, self published books still have a majority of the bestseller lists in both genres surveyed, especially in science fiction. This would have been impossible a year ago – unthinkable two years ago! It’s fascinating to watch this sort of dramatic change unfold.
Thanks for the comments on the last survey. I hope this data proves as useful to everyone as the other, and hope you’ll continue to add your comments here! I enjoy hearing from folks who’ve gotten some value from what I’m doing here.
1) How much of the market do indies (self publishers) really have?
2) What price is working for folks?
There’s going to be some variability to the answers. Some genres will likely see greater or less indie penetration; some will see higher or lower prices as the most popular. What follows is raw data mined from Amazon (which represents ~70% of the US ebook market, and is therefore a better tool for ebook numbers than Bookscan is for print). Answers from one genre won’t answer decisively for all genres. Nevertheless, it’s a useful tool for getting some ideas.
I picked science fiction for the genre to mine. A couple of reasons: SF was consistently a genre where indies had a lower presence in the top 25 bestselling list, for my December/January checks; and I write SF, and have read SF for over three decades, so I know the publisher names very well.
Analysis and data are from the top 200 bestselling science fiction ebooks on Amazon, February 26th 2012. EVERY attempt was made to ensure the data was as accurate as possible. Publishing companies owned by the author were counted as self publishing. Publishing companies which publish any submitted book for a fee were likewise counted as self publishing (there was one case of an Outskirts book). Publishing companies which in any way vet incoming books or have a submission process were counted as traditional publishers (couple of cases of Piers Anthony books by Premier Digital Publishing, for example). Whenever a question existed whether a publisher was trad or indie, I counted it as trad.
Please note that this is a limited data set, from one retailer (albeit a dominant one), about one genre of fiction.
Self Publishing (Indie) vs Traditional Publishing
Top 25 Bestselling breakdown was 72% indie, 28% traditional, with a 18/7 split.
Overall for the top 200 books, there were 154 indie books and 46 traditionally published books, or 77% indie and 23% traditional publisher.
Of interest: out of those 46 trad pub books, only 25 were recent books (which I define as originally published in the last ten years). The remaining 21 were older books, by authors like Burroughs, Heinlein, Asimov, Orwell, Anthony, and Adams. These older books represent most of the prices under $10 for traditionally published ebooks.
A couple of stray thoughts:
1) The idea that “only a few” self publishers are doing well is false. This is 154 books all selling well in excess of a thousand copies per month, in one (rather smallish) genre.
2) The data showed 72% indie penetration for the top 25, and 77% for the top 200. I suspect that the figure would remain roughly constant much deeper.
I’ve broken out pricing by price, and by indie/trad.
$0.99 – indie 48; trad 3; all 51 (25.5%)
$1.49/1.50 – indie 2; trad 0; all 2 (1%)
$1.99 – indie 7; trad 0; all 7 (3.5%)
$2.99 – indie 74; trad 4; all 78 (39%)
$3.95/99 – indie 8; trad 3; all 11 (5.5%)
$4.50/4.79/4.99 – indie 13; trad 7; all 20 (10%)
$5.99-6.35 – indie 2; trad 4; all 6 (3%)
$6.99 – indie 0; trad 4; all 4 (2%)
$7.95-$8.09 – indie 0; trad 10; all 10 (5%)
$8.99/9.00 – indie 0; trad 2; all 2 (1%)
$9.99 – indie 0; trad 3; all 3 (1.5%)
$11.99 – indie 0; trad 1; all 1 (0.5%)
$12.99 – indie 0; trad 2; all 2 (1%)
$13.99 – indie 0; trad 2; all 2 (1%)
$14.99 – indie 0; trad 1; all 1 (0.5%)
Despite the marked dominance of the 99 cent and $2.99 price points, I am noting an upward trend in self published ebook prices among better selling writers. As they grow fanbases, I suspect these writers are becoming more confident in their work and bolder in their pricing. There’s a distinct move toward the $4.50-$5.00 price point for indies (8.4% of indie books), and 14.9% of bestselling indie SF ebooks were priced above the $2.99 point.
There’s also a distinct drop off point after $8.00. Very few books were able to prove highly successful above that price, indicating that about the price of a mass market paperback is the highest most consumers are willing to pay for most ebooks. The exceptions were books by well known name authors such as George R.R. Martin.
What’s next? Difficult to say. I feel that the 99 cent and $2.99 points will remain dominant for as long as Amazon continues to use their current pricing structure. The 99 cent point is the lowest price allowed; the $2.99 point is the lowest books can get a 70% royalty from Amazon. That makes these prices standard starting points for newer writers trying to “earn their chops”.
I believe we’re seeing a trend which will continue of self published authors starting at those points, then gradually moving prices up as they acquire more readership and audience. More books, more years of work in learning the craft, and more readers will enable writers to boost prices and therefore profit more from each sale.
On the trad pub side, I believe we’ll see less books published at prices over MMP price. Their ebook prices will trend down – *must* trend down, to compete with indie pricing – so we’ll see a settling into $5-8 for most traditionally published ebooks, with higher prices for books they believe will sell well at a higher price. However, with such a high percentage of the ebook market (in this genre; preliminary evidence suggests similar self publishing penetration in most other genres) seized by self published books, publishers are in a tough spot. Retaining dominance in chain bookstores is their only remaining point of strength. As sales in those chains continue to dwindle, publishers will be forced to find more effective ways to regain lost market share in ebooks, or be relegated to a minority market position.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the data presented above! If you see flaws, please point them out; this is the first time I’ve done this in-depth a survey, but I intend to do more. If there are other things you think I ought to have looked at, or would like me to examine in future surveys, please let me know. Hopefully, this data will prove useful to many of us in making informed business decisions!
This is the beginning of a new series I’ll be following up on regularly. Here, I’ll be writing about publishers: big, small, and self. How they fit into the new publishing paradigm. What they can do to maximize their success given all the changes we’re seeing today. About what big publishers can learn from smaller presses, smaller presses can learn from self publishers, and self publishers can learn from everone else. We’re living in a fascinating time of epic change. And as with any industry with great disruption, publishing will see some groups able to leverage the change for greater success, while others remain mired in past practices and fail.
Book Marketing – The Old Way
For the last twenty years, most publishers in the United States have been heavily engaged in a vibrant marketing business. This book industry has spawned numerous book fairs, where publishers push their newest releases. Certain publications with only a few thousand readers each month are considered both successful and highly important, because they are a medium through which publishers can reach key book buyers. The entire model has been one of publishers producing books and then selling their wares to a very slim number of major book buyers at chain markets – Borders, Books a Million, Barnes and Nobles, B Dalton, Waldenbooks – and non-bookstore chains like Walmart and Target.
Over the last decade we’ve seen that market compress. Daltons and Waldenbooks went away, which was fine because they were simply absorbed by bigger competitors. Online bookstores were OK as well, because they were just more shelf space to sell books. Even Borders going under would not have been a disaster under the old model – loss of shelf space for a while, yes, but the market would recover.
But over the last ten years, things have been changing. Book buying has moved increasingly online. By some estimates, Amazon alone may sell half of all books in the US today, ignoring all other online booksellers. Online bookstores have several key advantages over brick and mortar stores:
- They have lower overhead, so they can charge less for product and still make money.
- They have centralized storage of books rather than distributed storage, therefore the shelf space is effectively unlimited. With ebooks, this has grown even more true.
- They represent an easy way for customers to browse books and get nearly any book they could want.
Which is all great for readers. But online bookstores represent a particular problem for publishers, because of that virtually unlimited shelf space. You don’t need to sell books to an online retailer. They take all of them. They take every major publisher release, all the small press releases, and are now actively taking books even from self published authors and giving them the same shelf space as any NYC-published book.
Bookstores Are Changing
Right now, the last bastion of chain bookstores is in trouble: B&N is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. The fact that they’re considering spinning off their Nook as its own business spells out clearly that they’re in trouble. The Nook IS the future for B&N. The only reason to spin it out is if they believe they cannot save the rest of the company, and are trying to salvage what they can before the rest goes under.
Indie bookstores are going under at a faster rate than ever before, and although we’re seeing a surge of new stores open in the wake of Borders closing, and will probably see more open after B&N dumps the brick and mortar stores (or folds entirely), most of those will simply not be able to succeed in an environment where books are cheaper online, and online stores offer more breadth of availability.
The only brick and mortar bookstore which can survive these changes will be one which can offer books as cheap as Amazon, offer immediate access to as many books as Amazon, and still remain profitable. A difficult proposition (albeit not an impossible one).
Suddenly, we’re looking at a near future where 80-90% or more of books might be purchased online (ebooks and print).
Now, on the one hand, that’s OK. Publishers will still have a great outlet for books. It’ll be online instead of in brick retail, but the venues are still there. But on the other hand, it’s a problem because most publishers have spent a very long time becoming expert marketers…
…to chain bookstores.
Which aren’t going to exist much longer.
Without the bookstore chains, all that marketing experience is out the window. There’s no need for it, anymore, not when anyone can upload a book to online bookstores as easily as they can. There’s no selling anymore. Suddenly the book fairs and expos are pointless. Kirkus loses its primary purpose (helping publishers sell books to retail chains). The massive industry built around that type of marketing is undermined and loses value. It’s already lost value, and loses more with every brick bookstore closure and every new customer who moves to ebooks or online print book buying.
New Marketing for the New Publisher
Writers have been able to be their own publishers for a very long time now. Editing, cover art, and book formatting have always been available for people who wanted to create their own books. But in the past, almost all of these efforts failed, earning the (justly) derided title of “vanity publishing”. Writers, and even to some degree small publishers, lacked one key ingredient: distribution. Major publishers had a virtual lock on book distribution. This has for decades been the primary value publishers offer to writers; everything else they do can be outsourced.
When the distribution lock went away with the dominance of online bookstores, it’s left publishers in something of a pickle. Everything they offer, writers can now do for themselves, and generally do cheaper. A major topic last month at Digital Book World was what, if anything, publishers could offer writers to retain a good sense of value on their side of the deal?
I believe that the answer is marketing. But not the marketing of last year, done to bookstore chains that are dead or dying. Rather, I believe publishers must learn to market themselves effectively to readers.
Understand, most publishers haven’t done much of this sort of work for a very long time. There’s a serious learning curve attached. But writers out there are definitely seeing the value which an excellent marketing department can give their books. Ridan Publishing has seen virtually every book they have launched reach its respective genre bestseller list, and is now being approached by “name” fantasy and science fiction writers like Joe Haldeman interested in working with them. That’s an enormous coup for a small press like Ridan. But writers as a whole seem to feel that their superb marketing department is well worth the 30% of net that Ridan keeps.
Yes, they keep less than half what a major publisher does for ebook sales, even though they do substantially more. And that’s the sort of math I believe publishers are going to need to get used to in the near future; but pricing and royalty shares should be their own post.
Marketing isn’t about selling to bookstores anymore. It’s about reaching readers.
1) It’s about building brand recognition as a publisher. Right now, most readers don’t recognize the names of most publishers, or even care who published a given book. With a few exceptions (certain romance presses, and some science fiction publishers like Baen), readers buy a book for the author, not the publisher. This element is critical to change. Publishers need to build brand loyalty among readers to their specific imprints. What this means, for a large publisher, is that a central access point of shared resources should be used collectively by a very large number of small imprints. Each imprint would work with a small number of highly focused books, all of them excellent, all of them related enough in subject or tone that readers of one will tend to enjoy the others. Brand loyalty – to publisher, not to writer – is going to be critical in building publisher value.
2) Reviews are as important as ever. Which reviews are important has changed. At the moment, the most important book reviews in the world are probably the ones written by readers, on Amazon. Major industry reviews are no longer key to book success and will grow less so as brick and mortar retail continues to contract. The NYT reviews are no longer what they were a decade ago. Today, getting reviews where readers buy books is most important, and a set of disseminated reviews at various book blogs around the internet is second. You want reviews to be placed where readers can easily see them and have their fancy tweaked.
3) Direct customer relationships are crucial. Most of the successful indies and small presses I see today utilize direct relationships with their readers. One of the most common elements of this system is a mailing list. Twitter, Facebook, and blogs can be useful tools to acquire readers for your deeper connection methods (like newsletters), but by themselves tend to have only mediocre results in actually pushing sales. Social media is about connections, not about selling. Using it to build deeper connections with readers/fans is useful. Publishers must then drive those connections into brand loyalties, converting those brief connections into lasting customer relationships.
It’s a very different form of selling from what most large publishers are used to.
I’m not sure how many of them are going to be able to make the shift. Those who do will probably excel in the new industry. Those who can’t will probably see their market share and influence continue to diminish, and may eventually fold from the trade book industry altogether. No matter – for each that folds, I predict we’ll see several outstanding new companies spring up to replace them, agile and adapting to each new change as it comes along.
As writer/publishers, owners of small publishing companies, or management at larger publishers, we face a significant challenge in the years ahead – to find ways to build our specific brands into something readers can have loyalty toward, and then leveraging that loyalty by continuing to consistently produce books that slice of the overall readership will love to read.
Special thanks to Kris Rusch, whose article here sparked the idea for this general response to one of the greatest challenges our industry faces today!
The holidays are over. All those millions of new Kindles are unwrapped and in use. So I thought it might be a good time to take another peek at those bestseller lists, and see how the indies are faring in a market which some analysts believe has doubled since this time last year.
The answer is, very well.
If you’ve been reading here a while, you’ll remember that on December 20th I was window shopping for ebooks on Amazon and noticed something odd. Last October, there were a few indie books in the top seats of most genres, but the majority of each top 25 list was traditionally published books. In December, something seemed to have changed, and self published books were everywhere. I did a survey of four genres and posted the results here.
Today I revisited those genres, and added two more. So I’m covering Romance, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Thrillers, Mystery, and Horror today. What follows is an analysis of the top 25 breakdown in each genre on Amazon. Why Amazon? With around 70% of the US ebook market, Amazon represents a higher percentage of ebook sales than Bookscan does of print, making the Amazon lists the most reliable bestseller list for ebooks available today.
I’ve also mentioned how many of the top 25 were in the Kindle Select program, as this seems to be having an increasingly robust impact on bestseller listing.
- Romance: 24 self published, 1 trade published, 20 Kindle Select
- Fantasy: 18 self published, 7 trade published, 17 Kindle Select
- Science Fiction: 18 self published, 7 trade published, 14 Kindle Select
- Thrillers: 18 self published, 7 trade published, 19 Kindle Select
- Mystery: 21 self published, 4 trade published, 21 Kindle Select
- Horror: 23 self published, 2 trade published, 23 Kindle Select
So at this moment, self published books represent from 72-92% of these Top 25 bestseller lists.
Also noteworthy that 56-92% of the books on these lists were in the Kindle Select programs, and overall over 90% of the self published books were enrolled in Select. While Select may not be working perfectly for every writer, it does seem to now be key in reaching the very top of the Amazon bestseller lists.
Now, bestseller lists aren’t everything. They’re the top books right now. Tomorrow, some of those books will have swapped out. And thousands of other books, indie and trad pub, are selling just fine without ever reaching a bestseller list.
But it’s noteworthy that not only did indies grab the majority of the bestseller lists last month – they seem to have held that majority and even gained more ground on traditional publishers in some genres.
The prevalence of Select in those titles is also relevant, because it demonstrates the effectiveness of that program. While I still believe it’s something of a lottery – and most writers will probably do better to at least have *most* of their books available everywhere – it’s undeniable that Select is making magic for some writers. Having a book rotate through Select might be a powerful tool for indies to build name recognition on Amazon.
I’ve updated the blog. New look – a crisp, clean website which should load a little faster and look a little more professional. I have to admit, I liked the old stonework art I used to have. It’s art I made, back when I was doing game art, so it had a little personal appeal. But I have to admit the clean white looks sharp.
When I founded this blog back in Autumn 2010, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing with myself. I knew that publishing was changing. I knew I loved writing, and that the way the writing profession seemed to be shifting had a lot of appeal. I’ve run a few businesses, and enjoy the work. Authors as entrepreneurs? Sign me up!
I’ve ended up doing quite a lot more than that now, though. Yes, I’ve been writing, and yes, I’ve been publishing that work. But to date, I’ve earned more income from formatting work for other writers, and done more work advising others on how best to go about doing things in this new world. I’ve listened to some of the best in the business, and I’ve participated in, even run, some intensive studies of the changing publishing marketplace.
In the process, I’ve created a blog which is fairly scattered. And as a very bright person pointed out to me earlier today, that’s not really the best way to go about things. So this is a moment of refocus. The old blog name was centered around me, my learning, my SF and fantasy writing: “Swords and Starflight: Exploring the worlds of writing and publishing”.
The new blog name is “Digital Delta: Charting a course through the changing world of publishing.”
Appropriate, because that’s what I’ll be writing about here. Yes, I’ll talk some about my own writing still. But the majority of what I put up here will be detailed information and analysis about the publishing industry as it exists today, and as it is likely to exist in the near future.
Because we’ve seen enormous change over the last two years, monumental change just over the last twelve months. But I think we’re still at the tip of the iceberg, and there’s much more to come. We’re still collectively working to find ways of coping with just these first steps of the digital publishing revolution, but the deeper changes won’t happen for a while yet. I predict that the next three years are going to be a rollercoaster of events as retailers, publishers, agents, writers, and everyone else involved in the industry work overtime to keep up.
Change can be scary. Folks, change can also be a lot of fun. Change can mean endings, but change can also mean new beginnings, new opportunities.
Let’s find them together.
I don’t really feel like running out new predictions right now. Maybe tomorrow.
Instead, I thought I’d take a look at 2011, and then ahead at 2012, and set some goals.
Dean’s written some amazing articles on goal setting. He’s done similar articles before, but these just rock. Excellent reading, and very timely – hey, we’re all looking ahead at the new year, right? Check them out:
2011 was a good year. I published three short stories and a novel. I met a ton of really amazing people, and learned a great deal. But it’s time to push things to the next level. Now, I’ve got a lot of changes coming down the pipe. This is going to be a huge year, with a lot going on. So goals – real, achievable ones – are going to be critical.
1. Write more.
I have a brand new book; a little moleskin pocket sized planner. Aside from tracking dates and schedules in it (the obvious), it’s going to be used to track my writing. When I write, how much I produce, what frame of mind I was in. I’m going to use that to figure out when and where my best times for writing are, and build a better schedule for getting more done. I’m going to track every new word of salable fiction and nonfiction, and I’m going to make sure there are a lot of them.
How many? I’m going to shoot for 366,000 words. (It’s a leap year, 1000 per day.)
I’ve never even come close to that before. It’ll be a huge challenge, from the perspective of history. But then again – since I write about 600-800 words in a 25 minute sprint, it’s not really that much per day. In the back of my mind, of course, is the idea I might be able to exceed that, but life has a funny way of breaking in, so let’s just keep it there for now.
Specifically, on the writing front, I plan to publish Ashes Ascendant, finish Dead In Winter, and publish that. Those will finish off the first three Blackwell Magic books. I also still plan to produce the serial fiction work. I got a great start on that in November, but need to re-examine how I can approach the genre. It was my first try, and there were a lot of flaws (primarily, because I wrote a novel instead of a serial!). I will also finish the rewrite of Accord of Honor – which my wife assures me needs a new title, so it might get one. Science fiction in the not so distant future, this is a “lost book” of mine, or almost was anyway. The file was lost in a hard drive crash, but I had a paper copy, so I’ve been retyping it into the computer, rewriting as I went. The resulting story is not the same as the first one was – there are big chunks simply scrapped and rewritten – but it’s much improved from the first attempt to tell the tale, and I’m very pleased with how it’s coming.
I’ve also had a lot of requests for basically a “step by step guide” to the mechanical parts of self publishing. Where to upload. How, exactly, to convert. How to do a basic POD book. All the basics, all in one book. I know there’s a few out there, but when I queried one LinkedIn group in a half joking post, I had a bunch of replies back saying yes, please do! So the outline is done on said book, and I’ll be cranking it out this year.
2. Follow Heinlein’s Rules.
A while back, Dean wrote a blog post where he mentioned the book those rules came from. It’s a great little volume, “Of Worlds Beyond: the science of science fiction writing”. I got a copy of the original 1947 edition for Christmas this year. It felt vaguely like getting a copy of the Gutenberg Bible. ;) I mean, this is THE BOOK. The source of the rules which spawned the careers of so many writers. And I was holding an original edition in my hands. How cool is that? I may love ebooks, but hey, some print books have value as a symbol beyond the actual words contained within the spine.
For those who don’t recall, Heinlein’s Rules are simple:
Heinlein’s Rules for Writing
- You must write.
- You must finish what you write.
- You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
- You must put the work on the market.
- You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
In this new age of publishing, those rules are still valid. Only the market has changed. The rules themselves are still as simple – and simply powerful – as ever. So I intend to follow those rules. I will write. I will finish each piece. I will rewrite based on editorial suggestion. I will get that work up for sale as soon as is possible, and keep it there so that it sells.
3. Business building.
I’ve begun formatting and editing for other writers. Doing ebook and print book formatting, and copy editing manuscripts. So far, I’ve had a bunch of really happy people, and I plan to continue working in this venue into the new year. I watch all the time as writers are caught by this or that questionable – even scammy – operation that sucks them for every cent it can. I feel firmly that hiring folks for basic one-time fees is the best way to go, and I put my money where my mouth is. I’m making those services available to writers at fees that are reasonable – complete with a free set of revisions, and phone-walkthrough assistance in the upload process if necessary. I’m enjoying the work, it’s extra income I can certainly use, and it’s helping writers become successful publishing their work. I don’t intend to set a goal for how many of these I will do, but I will continue to make the services available so I can help writers achieve their own goals.
There’s a lot to do. It’s going to be an amazing year, in so many ways, for so many people! I look forward to the challenges ahead, and the work ahead, and the new experiences and things to learn. 2011 was remarkable.
2012 stands ready to be incredible!
WAY back in December last year, I made a post with a set of predictions about what would happen in 2011, in the realm of ebooks and epublishing.
So I was curious, with the year ending, how I did. What came true? Where was my crystal ball horribly off?
- EPUB solidifies as the main open format. AMZ maintains its lead as the dominant format, however, losing some market share as iBook builds on the continued success of the iPad, but still holding 2/3 of the market for Amazon.
Yes. No real shockers there, though.
- Ereading Devices begin to coalesce into several main groups: dedicated eInk ereaders (long battery life, easier reading, but poor internet and less multipurpose), tablet computers (the iPad, Archos, and the numerous iPad clones planned by every major computer retailer for early next year), and pocket communications devices (basically, cell phones, often with video phone, often mini-tablets in their own right, with ereader functionality). None of these are dominant yet. Netbook sales plummet as tablet computers eat their market.
Yes. Although the Archos is dead, the Fire and Nook Tablet have risen to the challenge. Some computer manufacturers have had their tablets flop (Dell, HP), while others are seeing sales soar (Asus, Toshiba). The iPad is still dominant, but has a host of competing products, and phones continue to grow – the Samsung Note is a great example of a supersize cell phone that’s half cell, half tablet.
- By the end of 2011, wireless internet companies are offering cheap tablet computers for free with two year 3G/4G contract (not so far out; the cheap ones are only $100-200 retail right now), giving millions more people access to mobile internet tablets (with ereader capability).
Oops. I missed on this one. I still feel this was a missed opportunity for wireless providers. There are some *very* inexpensive tablets out there still, and 3G services are already offering discounts for the high end tablets like the Galaxy. Offering the basic models for free with a plan should be a no-brainer. But it hasn’t happened – not yet anyway. I’ll reserve this one for 2012.
- Amazon releases the color eInk Kindle. It sees sales as a niche product, since it costs more than the B&W eink, but doesn’t play video or look as crisp as LCD tablets – so it’s really mostly for readers who want to buy magazines and newspapers from Amazon.
I got this one part right. We certainly have a color Kindle! The Fire has sold millions of units already. But it’s not eInk. And far from being a niche product, it looks like the Fire is perhaps the most popular Kindle right now. The reason it’s not a niche is because it’s LCD, not eInk – so it has much broader potential appeal. Amazon’s moves with free video for Prime members has been a powerful stroke in marketing the Fire, too. So I hit the board on this, but missed the bullseye.
- Borders declares bankruptcy to reorganize. They close most or all of their big box stores, moving to a mostly online retail position with minimal brick exposure.
This happened. And then their reorganization failed, and they got an extension. Then it failed again, and they went under completely.
- At least three new ebook retailers take off to compete with Amazon, B&N, Borders, iBook, Sony, Kobo, and Smashwords.
Yes. Actually, there are quite a few more than three. But none have been able to generate enough market share to be real competitors yet. Some regional companies are getting into ebooks in a big way, though – Kalahari.com is serving some overseas markets in the same manner Amazon is here in the US, and is beginning to make people take notice, for instance.
- B&N begins the process to close their large stores, shifting to smaller print on demand stores capable of producing fast, quality books from their e-inventory. This does not happen in 2011, but they begin the work to make it happen.
Definitely seeing the shift toward this in B&N, as they busily dump every store for which they don’t own the physical property. Not seeing them make major moves into POD based stores yet, and it’s possible they simply might skip that step entirely. Ebooks are growing so fast that there might be very little time between when big box bookstores stop being viable (probably happening in 2013-2014 here in the US) and when even POD based bookstores stop being viable due to increasing ebook dominance.
- Ebooks pass 25% of total consumer book sales.
Yes, happened in January. Dipped down a bit over the summer, but definitely back over 25% before the end of the year.
- Joe Konrath sells his millionth self-published Kindle book toward the end of the year (he’s passed 200k for 2010).
Darn it, I inserted this partly as a joke, but I really did think the guy had it in him. ;) He didn’t make it, far as I know, but I think he’s getting close. And good for him. Some people have done as much for indies as Joe has, but few have done more. He’s earned his success the hard way, and I’m glad for him.
- New York Times sets up the ebook bestseller list, as they have announced they plan to do. Over 10% of the books on the list are self-published by the end of the year, with signs that this is growing.
A tricky one. The NYT did indeed set up this list, but I did not predict that they would deliberately falsify their list by excluding indie books! This has devalued their list (already dubious) in terms of using it as any sort of measure of success. Later, they began adding a few self published books, but very few. As a result, at this writing only one of the top 25 fiction ebooks on their list is self published. HOWEVER – seven of the top 25 ebooks on Amazon are self published. And scanning fiction genres recently, 60-80% of the top 20 list for every genre I reviewed was self published. Indies have moved onto the bestseller lists in a very noticeable way.
- No major publisher shuts down (I know some folks are predicting this, but I just don’t see it, not next year anyway). However, we see more line consolidations and changes to infrastructure as publishers continue to prepare for the digital-primary publishing world.
Correctly predicted. I think we may see some issues for some publishers in the next year or two, but most are still reporting higher than normal profits, due largely to paying a lower than usual share of profits to writers on ebooks.
So that’s where we were. Many predictions were dead on; some were off on the specifics, but on in general. And I missed on a couple completely. ;) But that’s the nature of predictions. Overall, I think we’re sitting just about exactly where I expected us to be when I made those comments a year ago. Indie sales have moved to an undeniable chunk of the marketplace – not yet dominant perhaps, except in fiction, but substantial and growing. Publishers are still chugging along and beginning to come to grips with the new market. Retailers are continuing to battle for customers and work on improving the experience for their users.
It’s been a fascinating year – the year when the stage was really set. I think 2012 will be critical, too, because it will largely determine how the chips fall, where control of what work is published lands, and who ends up in the best position in the years ahead. Make smart decisions, folks – what we do now will have reverberations felt for many years to come.