Mark Coker wrote an article on his predictions for what this year will bring to the Book Industry. The Smashwords founder clearly has solid business experience and insight. You can read his article here and I think the every writer who wishes to be read and especially those who wish to profit will be the wiser for it.
I earned an undergrad degree in business administration prior to publishing three titles under Amazon’s KDP select program, so I feel that my reactions may be different from those of other indie authors whose education focused on English, Science, Liberal Arts, Pop Culture shows, or Dungeons and Dragons. I am by no one’s standards making a living by my creative writing, though my Amazon royalties for a year could make a mortgage payment with a couple hundred bucks to spare.
Coker’s primary message is that indie publishing remains the best opportunity writers have historically had at finding an audience. The majority of the message also focuses around the observation that Amazon dominates the market with seventy percent of the total revenue of book sales. He asserts that KDP Select, an exclusivity program that puts an author’s titles before author’s whose ebooks are available at multiple booksellers, is inhibitive to author independence.
I agree with both, however I question how and why author independence in relevant. Here is some simple math that I used when determining that I should stay with KDP Select. I will base it upon the arbitrary amount of $100 in kindle single copy sales, and the personal observation I have made based upon my personal, singular, and perhaps non-universal experience that the payout from Kindle Unlimited reads matches dollar for dollar my single copy royalty amounts ( if I sell $100 in single units in January, I’ll get paid $200, thanks to the additional $100 in KU pay).
KDP Select- 70% of market doubled by KU payout would net me $200.00
KDP & Smashwords, B&N, Kobo, etc. (the other 30% of the market) would net me $130.00
I’m wildly oversimplifying the math. Guess why… I like words better than numbers, perhaps that’s why I write. Things that didn’t factor into my simpleton calculation? Well there is the extra work it would take me to put my books on other platforms; that would either take away from writing, editing, or reviewing books. Those are things I enjoy. Learning and using publishing software is what I endure. Second, my $100 base number of single units sold may actually also be diminished by retailing with the underdogs because Amazon would rank my title below KDP Select titles under that scenario.
Is that biased? Of course, but so is Mr. Coker. No human alive who has formed context to understand this or Coker’s article is without bias. A bias simply implies that I come into this conversation with preconceived notions. Mr. Coker and I are both thinking about an indie author’s best interests (I’m making an assumption as I can never know what’s in someone else’s head).
Could I better stand out in a smaller marketplace offsetting the differences I cited above? Absolutely, I know and respect some authors that operate under that strategy. I bet some authors can even make a living excluding their titles from Amazon entirely. Some but not most.
In my humble opinion, Mr. Coker’s predictions are all centered around Product Life Cycle. PLC is a concept in the science of business (yes the study of business is a science, it is both quantifiable and predictable. It is also an older and more established science than many “brainier” sciences like astrophysics and human nutrition). Here is the Wikipedia article on the subject.
I think Coker asserted that ebooks, as a product, are nearing the end of the Maturity stage. However, instead of maintaining product maturity, his anecdotes of successful authors quitting or scaling back production of ebooks might imply that the industry is approaching saturation or decline. I don’t think that is what he is implying, but I think many could interpret his prediction #8 in that light. People get discouraged and stop writing all the time.
The reason I know that people will not resort to reading only free ebooks is that many authors write stories in a series. Not even the popular fan fiction phenomenon seems to hurt sales of a popular series. How many people that read Harry Potter fan fiction ignore Rowling’s new titles? They likely are even more excited about them. Many talented indies give away the first book in their series as a tactic to sell the sequels. Perhaps writers in the near future will never make a profit on book one. Think about all the ways a writer pays to promote already. It isn’t exactly a tragedy to give away a sample of the series.
I do think the amount of readers currently willing to read ebooks has peaked. I also think that younger generations will become ever more willing to stray away from paper books. Perhaps in time the ratio of paper books will shrink in comparison to ebooks, but every baby boomer I know has made up their mind about ereaders.
Ebooks will become a commodity. Nothing can stop that. Business science has identified that every product runs through the product life cycle. However, ebooks are not just products, they are works of art, and as such, once an author has achieved popularity with their “Brand of One”, their product is more valuable than most. This means that every new indie author is best served selling their title for commodity (cheap) prices until their fan base demands their title for its distinctions over other ebooks.
Is Amazon monopolizing the ebook industry? Well, there are enough things on an independently published writer’s plate to worry about. If there are government bodies responsible for making determinations and waging battles against industry bullies, I think I’ll focus on writing, editing, and reviewing books. They are the parts of self-publishing I love, after all.
Do I want Smashwords to succeed? I’m honestly indifferent, but Coker seems passionate and I feel that passionate people should succeed. Even Mr. Coker said, “Amazon has so far been able to skirt anti-trust scrutiny…” Between that fact and my crude math, I think I’ll focus on my passions. If you are passionate about supporting the underdog and leading an arguably inevitable rebellion, perhaps KDP Select is not for you.
No matter where you stand, do what you are passionate about. I’ll continue writing and self-publishing the Anki Legacies series because it’s a big story I love. Thanks Mr. Coker for a thought provoking article.
Happy New Year!