Tag Archives: Publishing

Kindle Unlimited: Look Before You Buy

Amazon announced last week the introduction of a new service, Kindle Unlimited, which gives you access to a library of 600,000 books for $9.99 a month, or a $120 a year. There’s been a lot of buzz about how this might affect libraries , even though most libraries are a free public service. But we do live in a both/and society and frankly my consumption of eBooks is at a level that $10 might actually be a steal, until you dig a little deeper.

In case you haven’t read this, seen the movies, got the t-shirt, or dressed up as a character at a con.

What are the 600,000 books Amazon is offering you? Their advertising features the Harry Potter Series, The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings, and Life of Pi. All excellent and popular books. And if you haven’t read them by now, what’s been keeping you? All of these are books you could find in the Half Price Books clearance section for $1.00 a piece, or check them out from your library, or borrow them from one of countless friends. (Full confession: While I’ve seen a lot of the Potter movies I haven’t actually read the books myself, but I’m a bit of a contrarian when it comes to popular culture).

I’m sorry we don’t have any Grisham, though we do have Grasham.

I did a quick run down of books my wife and I like to read. Like many people, my wife likes John Grisham. Amazon offers dozens of titles by this prolific and excellent legal thriller author, but virtually none are offered in Kindle Unlimited (and the ones that are are short stories or unofficial collaborations). Same goes for Kathy Reichs (author of the Bones series), Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody mysteries), Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse), Marc Maron, Isaac Asimov, Jeffrey Deaver, the list goes on.

All of these authors are available in my local library’s digital lending program. For no cost I can borrow an eBook for 7-21 days, read it on my Kindle, Nook, tablet or computer, and return it with no overdue fees.

So again, what are these 600,000 books exactly? Well a lot of them are KDP select authors, like John Grasham.

Now I love Indie Authors, but…

If you’re the average consumer, who wants to read the latest popular titles for free or for a nominal fee, you might be a little dismayed to find that what you actually can borrow is by an author who’s only sold a couple of hundred copies.

By the way, I’m not picking on John Grasham or any other indie author who publishes on Amazon (considering I am one and Surreality will also be released on that platform). In truth I succumbed to the resemblance of Grasham to Grisham and the fact I peripherally know the author’s relatives (and his book is quite good).

So some consumers will be disappointed they can largely only read self-published work, and the ones that aren’t may be cutting into an indie author’s livelihood.

We all want exposure, to get our name and our books out there. That’s why some authors give books away for free or deeply discounted. But exposure isn’t everything. If you’re enrolled in Kindle Select, you may be kinda hoping for that higher royalty of 70%. Sure Indie Authors get a cut of the lending fund, but that’s nothing compared to what they’d get if they actually sold a book.

And from the looks of it, this wasn’t on their own terms. A number of KDP Select books from authors I know seem to have been automatically enrolled, including work by M. S. Fowle and several author guides in my Kindle wish list.

Okay what about audiobooks?

Audiobooks are probably one of the most price inflated ways to read. A recent indie audiobook bundle advertised containing over $1000 worth of audiobooks, or 11 audiobooks. Audible is an expensive, DRM mired service that is difficult to listen to in the manner you see fit.

My library, on the other hand, offers many books as easily lended audiobooks, many in MP3 DRM free format which makes them easily burned or transferred to devices.

Nutshell time

So in my case, my library actually offers a better service for free than Amazon’s paid service. And by actually buying indie author’s books, I’m supporting their work as I hope they’ll support mine. Kindle Unlimited may have something for you, but your tastes will have to be pretty specific.

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Trube On Tech

Really we’re to blame

It’s pretty easy to pick sides in the Amazon vs. Hachette contract negotiation battle. Amazon is evil for removing the buy buttons off many (though not some of the bestselling) Hachette titles, and Hachette is foolhardy for taking this long to negotiate with one of the largest book distributors in the world, considering that the average consumer doesn’t think about publishers, they think about authors.

But here’s the thing, Amazon may be evil for squeezing profit margins down to razor thin amounts, or requiring the eBook to stay at a certain price, but if we wanted that to change, if we actually wanted to make sure that authors and publishers got more of our money, then we would need to be willing to change our behavior.

See the solution to Hachette’s problem with Amazon could be so simple. Instead of selling eBooks through Amazon, it could sell them through its own site, DRM free in epub, mobi and pdf formats. That way the customer actually owns the book, and can read it on the reader or tablet of their choice.

But that solution will never work for two simple reasons: Consumers don’t really care that they don’t own their eBooks (or they simply don’t think about it), and even if they do care, most do not want to have to manage their eBook libraries themselves.

Buying eBooks from many different sources requires organization, and even though there are plenty of good software options for doing so, most would rather Amazon just do it. Hachette’s audience is broad, it houses some of the most popular authors. Sure, some of its audience is tech savvy, but many just want to read and not think about it.

And yeah, maybe you don’t own an ebook, but does it really matter if you’re only ever going to read it once, and you only paid a couple of bucks for it? There’s always risk in losing something, you could be robbed, you could lose a physical book, or drop it in a puddle, or whatever. Owning a book DRM free may reduce your risk of losing the book, but not significantly enough for people to change behavior.

And worst of all, we each make perfectly rational personal economic decisions when it comes to buying books (i.e. we buy the cheapest book we can find). If I want a lot of ebooks, I will want to buy them cheap, and apart from a few book bundles, the answer to that is Amazon. As an author, publishing on Amazon is a must because it’s the best channel for people finding my niche work, despite the fact I can get a better royalty almost anywhere else. But higher percentages don’t matter if they aren’t matched by higher sales.

Now some of us are charitable. We think about who our money is going to, or we’re willing to pay a few extra dollars to get a better product (I’m doing this with the comic book Saga by buying it directly from Image instead of waiting for the cheaper trade). But if we have finite dollars, we probably can’t do that for everything we like, unless we’re willing to buy less things, and that doesn’t seem like us.

So yeah, Amazon is evil. And we’re totally going to keep buying from them anyway. And Hachette is going to keep selling through them. And so am I.

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Writing

Why I’m a little tired of hearing from Mark Coker

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, an online indie self-publishing marketplace with a C- better business bureau rating, says that “self-published ebooks will account for 50 percent of ebook sales by 2020”.

That’s ebook sales, not book sales. I think it’s easier for us to imagine that self-published authors will out-pace sales of conventional published books due at least in part to the shear volume of material.

In a Huffington Post article, Coker outlines his rationale and predictions for why self-publishing will be dominant. I’d like to take the opportunity to parse his specific points:

1-2) Print will decline as book-reading format, Brick and mortar bookstores are disappearing – Both true, and something Coker is apparently not happy about. It’s not hard to find eBook advocates who espouse the virtues of physical books and stores. I do most of my reading on an eReader now and yet I still surround myself with physical books. What I’ll actually mourn is secondary stores like Half Price Books. Doesn’t anybody remember when Barnes & Noble and Borders were the threat?

3) The perceived value of publishers will decline in the eyes of writers – I don’t buy this. Even though I’m a self-published author, and intend to continue doing so for certain books, I doubt any one of us wouldn’t jump at the chance to be picked up by a major publisher, especially if it involves a physical book you can sign for others. That’s how you know you’ve arrived. Print on demand is nice but doesn’t feel quite the same. I think until you get a generation of writers who have no relationship with physical books, you’ll still have a desire in the back of your mind to “really” publish as opposed to self-publishing. 2020 is too soon for that to change.

4-5) Indie authors have learned to publish like professionals, The stigma once associated with self publishing is disappearing –  Partially true and getting truer with self-publishing being branded as indie publishing. Diversity of projects is definitely a benefit as is not having to prove profitability immediately. However, I think the more likely outcome is “hybrids” both print and self-publishers (like Chuck Wendig and John Scalzi). They tend to make the most in terms of royalty and have loyal brands around themselves.

6-8)  The number of self-published eBooks will explode, Successful indies are mentoring the next generation of writers, Writers are discovering the joy of self publishing – Point 6, Agreed. Point 7, True but not personally relevant to every writer as many of us are a rowdy and independent bunch. Point 8, advertising for Smashwords? Truthfully no long form project is exactly a joy and royalties widely vary depending on venue and choices made. That said, I am proud of producing my own eBook product and testing it myself, but this appeals more to the programmer and less to the writer side of myself.

9) Readers don’t care about the publishers name on the ebook’s virtual spine – Agreed. Except I like Baen and Tor for DRM free reasons.

10) There’s a growing rift between writers and publishers – I know writers who resent the “gatekeeper” model of the publishing industry, low royalties, having to self-advertise etc. Don’t imagine the self-publishing world solves all those problems. Search engines are the new gatekeepers even before the readers, higher percentages matter less when you have to price lower to be competitive, and self-advertising is true either way.

Here’s my bottom line takeaway:

1) Indie (Self Pub) Authors need to be open to all avenues of publication (books, eBooks, magazines, blogs, etc.)

2) Writing and publishing are tough jobs and neither have many short cuts.

3) You need to have a good idea of your actual goal (to put your story out there for a few friends, a few hundred enthusiasts, or hundreds of thousands of readers). Do I want to make a living writing, or do I just write to live?

What do you think?

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing, Writing Goals

A few thoughts on self-publishing

My stance on the value of self-publishing goes like this:

In today’s technology age it’s best for an author to be open to trying as many different avenues for publishing as possible. Submit a story to a magazine, put it up on your blog, enter a contest, try to get a literary agent, self-publish your book on your own terms, use CreateSpace, etc.

An extension of this is, the project dictates the method of publishing. Now genre fiction can be traditionally published or self-published. It tends to find a particular niche on eReaders so if you have the platform to make it happen that’s not a bad option, but neither is going through an agent.

Some projects, like very very niche projects, are well suited to self-publishing, especially if you think it would be an uphill battle to get a publisher to fund an expensive book only a few people would read.

Self-publishing does not limit your options. The authors making the most money today seem to be the “hybrids”, traditionally and self-published authors.

That being said, some elements of being a self-published author are unfortunate.

If you don’t want to sell exclusively on Amazon you are:

  • Getting a 35% royalty instead of 70%.
  • Unable to run a price promotion unless you actually change the price  (no scheduling).
  • You will not be selected for a Kindle Daily Deal (though apparently some Kindle Worlds projects can be).

If you want to publish on Smashwords you are:

  • Confined to 5MB of content.
  • Relying on a third party to convert your book into multiple formats.
  • Working with a company with a sketchy better business bureau rating (C-).

If you want to publish for the Nook you are:

  • Getting a better royalty but still need to meet the $10 threshold to get paid.
  • Which may be a lot harder given that Nook Sales are a much smaller piece of the eBook publishing pie.
  • And Nooks are perceived as being on the way out, even if they might be better hardware.
  • And their on-line formatting software still needs a lot of work.

Even Bundle Dragon, who I love, has a couple of caveats:

  • Less mainstream name recognition so much higher self-promotion required.
  • Reluctance of readers to buy something they can’t manage in their Amazon library.
  • It’s still in its first year of being a fully released platform. And its own audience is more games and music oriented.
  • Still totally worth it since the profit margin is 80%, you have full control over everything, and you get paid monthly (without the 60 day wait).

It’s important to have all the facts, and weigh all the options when considering what to do with your next story. But the best solution to fixing something you’re not happy with, is to write something else and try it somewhere else. Success, it seems, is earned by those who put out quality work in great quantity.

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Filed under Trube On Tech, Writing