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It seems that every week brings a new development in the world of digital publishing and indie authors have varied opinions on what's happening. In this interview, I discuss some of the latest events and also debate what 2012 holds.
Steven Lewis is an author, podcaster and at Taleist he helps writers become published authors. He has just posted Self Publishing and Ebook Predictions 2012 on his blog which we discuss today. [Video at the bottom of the text]
- One of the comments in the article is ” 2012 is the year things get bad for the traditional publishing industry”. My thoughts are more that there's a split between publishers going digital and those that are not. Steven comments that for publishers going digital the problem is pricing and customers think the price has to be low. 99c – $4.99 which in some cases still doesn't cover the costs of all the editing, design etc. People won't pay print prices, that's a given but where is the limit. Publishers will find it tough to run the publishing machine with less income.
- Publishers will be trying new things in 2012. Penguin opening up to ‘self-publishing' is actually more like vanity publishing. None of us want to see the end of publishers and bookstores but things will continue to shift.
- Steve thinks Amazon has to start doing something about the crap that is being published in 2012. The spam, the hardcore pornography and the things that come up in searches. They have to clean it up but there have been problems with Amazon trying to get rid of what some people think is wrong e.g. gay/lesbian writers. We have to balance free speech with what is genuinely awful. I prefer to think of the customer as the gatekeeper as I am browsing by categories, ranking etc. The new stigma will be ‘not selling' as opposed to self-publishing.
- What else will Amazon do in 2012? We discuss Kindle Select. It's basically a way for self-publishers to put their book into the Kindle Prime lending program where members can borrow books. Amazon has put $500,000 in a pot and that is shared pro-rata depending on how many books & how many borrowed. You have to commit to 90 days exclusivity, so you can't publish it elsewhere. It's not an income strategy really. But what is interesting is that you can put your book for free for 5 days so you can control your timing on using free as a marketing tactic. Steven isn't happy about this as he says we're training readers that books should be free. I disagree and point to CJ Lyons' as she uses free as a teaser to boost the sales of her other books. Amazon's job is to make an offer and it's up to the author to decide what's best for their book. We'll also re-examine this after at least a month's worth of data.
- Check out David Gaughran's article on KDP Select: How much do you want to be paid tomorrow?
- Steven gets upset at my comparison of KDP Select to a library. My point is that it's more about marketing and getting your books in front of more people. Personally, I will probably put one book into KDP Select but keep most of them out.
- Will there be better tools for authors in 2012? Steven says it's unlikely we will get much further than the basic formatting for mainstream books. I mention the FutureBook conference where I met publishers doing some really interesting work with transmedia and apps. This is something that we as self-publishers can't do ourselves so if you have these ideas for cross-media ideas it would be better to work with a publisher. Authors also underestimate the amount of time to do all the things you can do and focusing on what will work for you. It's a triathlon – you write, publish and promote but promotion also goes on forever. The cost is often in the time.
- If we're basically seeing an expansion of mainstream print books, we have to get better at marketing. Reading works as it is, there doesn't have to be a change. You really still only have to write books. You don't have to do apps and all that multi-media. I'm interested in doing audiobooks. Steven has some experience of this and doesn't find it a huge market but it's definitely something that we are keen on taking further. It's not about the money, more about the marketing.
- Amazon moving into international markets. I specifically want India to come online as a huge English speaking market. We note how Amazon keeps surprising us. There are no rumors, they just do it. They can move into these countries very easily and will do as soon as they are ready. Steven & I get annoyed about all the differences in pricing and sales tax.
- Advertising in ebooks. Authors will do it and Amazon is also putting ads on the Kindle. Steven even likes the advertising on his Kindle as it offers things the reader wants. Seth Godin with the Domino Project did get companies to sponsor the book and give it away for free. It's not radically different to what we are used to now. Authors will also be able to advertise in each other's books. Bloggers can join in an advertising network, so why not authors? Join in an advertising campaign and see what happens with it. You definitely need to use your Kindle book to advertise your own books. Make sure you hyperlink to Buy Now for each of the books you have available. Think about linking up with other authors and advertise each others but be careful.
- We talk about Scrivener and exporting to Kindle formats. The pros and cons.
- Amazon continues to dominate but we discuss Kobo which has great statistics, like when people stop reading your book & people can interact socially about it. Nook Color vs Kindle Fire. What's happening with the other players in the market? It's very hard to challenge Amazon's place in the market now, they are so entrenched. They are also selling their devices at less than cost. It would be great to see some decent challenge to Amazon as with great power comes great responsibility and with all our eggs in one basket, they could turn around and change royalty rates later.
- As indies getting on everything other than Amazon KDP, our options are Smashwords and BookBaby, that's about it. Will there be other options for us? or will Smashwords expand their offering. We love Smashwords but recognize the immense amount of work it is for Mark Coker to manage the company now it's really taken off.
- Steven reckons Amazon will play hardball with the other players in 2012, e.g. asking for exclusivity. They also might move to a verification method for self-publishing e.g. paying $50 instead of free. It's Amazon's reputation at risk with the crap that is flooding the store. Serialization may also become available as a new model. Exciting times overall!
You can find Steven at Taleist.com and also on Twitter @Rule17
Matt Darringer says
There are two huge shifts going on. Traditional publishing is NOT actively interested in new authors and forces them to have to put up with snotty agents looking for a slice of the money. That stance ALONE points to implosion. Barnes and Noble should be in crisis mode right now figuring out how to be a book store without books because THAT is what is headed their way. Electronic publishing is the death of traditional publishing and the death of the big publishers cannot happen quickly enough. Their anti-author stance is about to bite them. I’m for 100% electronic.
Joanna Penn says
I’m definitely a supporter of the whole book eco-system. I don’t want to see bookstores entirely gone as I love to browse them but guiltily, I am one of those who will browse physically and then buy on my Kindle. Ouch. There was a comment at the FutureBook conference where someone mentioned Amazon buying Waterstones, a high street chain of bookstores, and turning into their shop front – then people could behave like I am! We shall see.
Print will never disappear and I like some print, especially the more interesting forms we will see when the mass market turns digital. I read 95% ebooks these days though, so my sentiment doesn’t match my behaviour.
Christopher Wills says
I think two signs will show the apocolypse is nigh for traditional publishers. The first will be mainstream authors deserting them because they can earn much more away from a big publisher, especially if they have a decent size backlist. The second will be big publishers cutting costs on a big scale like moving out of London (or New York) and getting rid of lots of staff.
With POD and a good internet connection anyone can set up a publishing company from a hillside anywhere in the world. I’m surprised an enterprising literary agency hasn’t worked this out yet. They could easily poach a few good passed over mid list authors and set up as an online publisher as a trial. I bet they could earn these authors more than a hundred times what their publishing companies could.
It’s fun being an indie and watching publishing companies squirm.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Christopher, agents are in fact setting up as publishers, this has been going on for about 6 months now & there has been some backlash of course! Smashwords has even seen the market and created their own roadmap for agents
I’m a softie and don’t like seeing anyone squirm, but it’s certainly fun being an indie!
Belinda Pollard says
Hi Joanna (and Steven), thanks for the thought-provoking discussion.
The Amazon monopoly does concern me. We will get to the situation where they can do anything they want, and big and little authors and publishers (and author-publishers) will just have to like it or lump it.
But having said that, do I do anything to stop them growing in power? No! I’m part of the problem. I buy my ebooks almost entirely from Amazon, because I opted for Kindle. (I buy print books mostly from Book Depository, because they ship for free to Australia… but of course Amazon is taking over Book Depository too!)
Regarding apps, multimedia books etc, I actually differ from you guys. I see it as talented self-publishers, who can do all the tech themselves, who’ll be able to make that one work. For big publishers, the fact that they have to hire by the hour a swag of highly qualified people to make it happen makes it just too expensive to be financially viable. But I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong a lot of times before. 😉
Joanna Penn says
Hi Belinda, lovely to see you back here!
I have just read that Amazon is losing some ebook market share to the Nook in the US but Amazon still have 60% + I can’t find the article but I have heard a lot of good things about the Nook. Not that we have it in the UK or Australia! But I am a Kindle shop too – they were first to market in Oz when I wanted to get an e-reader. I would have bought the Sony ereader but they weren’t selling it. Amazon is the first to market in Europe & looks to be in India and other places too, so that will most likely mean they dominate there.
I like to think they will continue to offer a fair deal to us all a) because I’m a positive person and b) because books aren’t Amazon’s biggest seller anymore and they have other fish to fry!
On apps, there are definitely some talented self-publishers, but I think most of us are technically stumped by Kindle formatting so apps are a step too far. Certainly that’s how I think! I’d actually like to do some stunning print experiments sometime in the future. We shall see!
Steven Lewis says
To add to what Joanna just said, I think there’s also the question of how much time self-publishers want to spend on preparing their books. If you’re not working full time as a writer, you’re short enough of time to write without also having to master publishing and promotion of your book. Even if you are fulltime as a writer, you don’t necessarily want to eat too much into the time you could be spending writing. You might be better off paying other people to do things for you while you do what you’re good at and that is what’s earning the money to keep you going.
Engaging other people is what I call becoming a self-publishing house instead of “just” a self-publisher. (We all know there’s no “just” when it comes to all the jobs involved in self-publishing!)
Belinda Pollard says
Hi Joanna and Steven,
I know what you mean regarding the time commitments and talents of self-publishers… I wasn’t very clear in my comment regarding the “enhanced” books. I’m not *advocating* it for self-publishers — especially if they’re people like me, who can’t set the clock on the microwave. 🙂
What I meant was an observation rather than a recommendation, that the writer/geeks are probably the ones who have the best chance to make enhanced books succeed at present. I’m thinking of the Max Barry type, who already write their own games/apps/etc (not that Max Barry is self-published – he’s just an example of a writer/geek). While their time writing apps etc is time they can’t be writing their books, there is no actual outlay cost for them to do so, just the time cost, and they’ll probably spend a fair bit of their time doing that sort of thing anyway — because they love it — regardless of the time cost, so why not connect their hobby to their writing business? Time will tell how many take a crack at this.
Then if their enhanced book makes, say, $20,000, they’re 20,000 in the black, unlike the big publisher who spent 50,000 on the app and is now 30,000 in the red. (v simplistic example, because I hate maths)
The thoughts were triggered by this article that came out of the Frankfurt Book Fair this year…
…interesting insight into the cautious attitude of the bigger publishers to the whole enhanced book thing.
Josh Sarz says
Everything is moving to digital, I have to admit that even though I love the smell of my book collection. It’s both good news and bad news in my opinion. Bad because there might be a lesser number of “physical books” that would become available. Good news because it opens doors for other writers to grow in their field without having to go through publishing companies.
Stella Deleuze says
Good article and comments; a lot of food for thoughts.
I agree with training the reader to think that e-books have to be for free. Although I do think that the promotional tool ‘free for a limited short period’ is fine, Project Gutenberg and Smashwords have already trained the reader, not Amazon. And us Self-Published authors who start to get a foot into the market, offering their books for 99c isn’t helping either. Then again, many readers are appalled by the low quality of self-published books and don’t buy anything that’s more than $2.99 if it’s a first time author. I firmly believe that even a 99c book should be well-edited.
Like Belinda, I feel that Amazon is taking over the e-publishing world. In addition to that do they make money from the low sales of authors. I’ve sold a few copies in Germany and will probably never see the royalties. I’m about $30 away from getting paid from the US (Since March!), etc. People sold books in Italy and Spain due to the promotions and they’ll probably never see royalties from it. Amazon digs into self-published authors’ pockets. That, I find is really worrying.
Then, like Belinda, I opted for the kindle, and I have my books on Amazon, too.
By the way, I don’t think 4.99 for an e-book doesn’t cover the costs of the editing. The margins on paperbacks are so much lower. The wholesalers and distributors, as well as the book shops get the majority of the money. In paperback it’s the volume of sales and I could imagine that for every e-book sold, about 10 paperbacks are sold in the shops, if not more. There’s not much difference between a paperback for 6.99 and the e-book 4.99, and the 2 pounds are for the publisher. It could actually be that a publisher receives more from a sold e-copy than from a paperback. I might be wrong here, but I would believe it’s the publisher itself who places the books on amazon.
Nat Khublall says
The publication of Ebooks is increasing at a tremendous rate. I hope this will not result in a reduction
in print books. The choice now of publishing an eBook provides the opportunity for writers who would find it difficult or too expensive to publish a print book. Because of this opportunity, some books have materialised which otherwise would not been published. I had nine textbooks published
by highly reputable publishers before 1997 as print books. Some ten years ago, I wrote two books but could not have them published without having to make an upfront payment, which I refused to do.
However, in 2012 I was able to publish them as eBooks without any cost whatsoever. In addition, I
published another two eBooks in 2012. I expect to publish another eBook in 2013.