The Okob Imperium, the Six Towers, and the Marble Horses

1st Day – The Neverending War & The Old Man

The Okob Imperium could not be defeated. It had stood for as long as the people could remember.

The old gaunt man stood looking upon the Six Towers that comprised the capital city of the Okob Imperium. There were three walls circling the capital. The walls had never been breached. There were 11 Gates scattered along the three walls. Each Gate was well guarded and fortified with special metal alloys blessed by the spells of the grand magicians of the six towers.

The old man thought back to what his father had said when he had set out on his journey.

The Okob Imperium cannot be defeated.

It had taken the old man 17 years to build up his army of free men and women. His father and brothers weren’t part of it – he suspected even 100 years wouldn’t be enough to convince them his war was winnable.

The old man turned back towards his army and spoke. The words flowed out with the weariness of age and the magic of hope. His blind faith and charisma turning them into sounds more melodious than the songs of angels.

His soldiers had been ravenous – the days of marching and adrenaline setting them on edge. His words stoked the fires in their hearts. The old man looked upon them one last time and then gave the command.

The army rushed forward, pouring upon the capital like the darkness of eternal night.

227th Day – The Neverending War & The Decision

The meeting of the Grand Wizards had been hastily arranged. Two of the walls were down. The gates of the third wall were at breaking point.

How long would one solitary wall protect the six towers?

The Imperium Council sat behind their ornate desk. The five of them resplendent in robes built upon the blood of millions of peasants.

There’s no other way. We have called upon the Dark Wizardesses. The Marble Horses have been readied.

A shudder passed through the hearts of the Grand Wizards. They were as children in front of the Dark Wizardesses. They had given up something, perhaps their souls, for powers that exceeded the imagination. The Dark Ones would win them the Neverending War … but at what price?

We have no other choice. We have no other choice at all.

253rd Day of Battle – The Neverending War & The Marble Horses

The old man had just lopped off the head of an Imperium Soldier. The third wall was there for the taking. Its southern gate was beginning to crack.

A slow smile flitted across the old man’s face. The Neverending War was about to end. As the old man envisioned what it would feel like to tear down the Towers, a screech pierced the air and stilled the fighting.

Soldiers from both sides stopped and looked back towards the outer fields. There were 7 great marble horses there. The Old Man had tested them – they were all solid marble. No seams. No surprises.

Nothing for a few moments. Then the marble horses shook themselves.

The giant marble horses had come alive. The old man crossed himself. What manner of cursed magic was this?

The ground around the marble horses began to move. Ghastly dark soldiers dug their way out of the ground and stood by the marble horses. Then, without warning, the marble horses and the dark soldiers started rushing towards the battlefield.

578th Day of Battle – The Neverending War & The Horn

Two of the marble horses still stood. Thousands of the dark soldiers were still fighting. The Imperium had hardly any soldiers left. The old man’s army was almost gone.

The old man stood by the southern gate, which still stood. His army was surrounded on all sides and defeat crept ever closer.

This is what it had come down to. The Six Towers and the Imperium would win. The old man felt the last gasp of hope leave his body as one of the remaining Marble Horses brushed aside his guards and approached him.

Then a horn sounded.

The Old Man looked towards the South. Everything stood still for him. The Marble Horse stopped … taken aback by the change in the old man’s eyes.

The horn sounded again.

The old man looked more carefully. A dark line was forming in the South. It grew from something amorphous into a line of people. It stretched as far as his eye could see. He smiled. The people. The idiots. What could they do against dark soldiers and Grand Wizards? Yet he smiled wider.

They could not stand against the swords and shields of the Imperium. They could do nothing against the Dark Soldiers. If his army, trained painstakingly and equipped magnificently, had lost – what hope did some peasants have?

Then he saw the second line. Then the third. Then the fourth. Slowly despair crept into his soul. It would be a massacre. The peasants could not hope to take on the Imperium and survive. Yet, the never ending lines of peasants and villagers kept marching forward.

The End of the Neverending War

The old man’s army, the little of it that remained, the dark soldiers, the last two marble horses, and the few remaining Imperium soldiers – all stood and looked upon the endless rows of peasants.

The first line stopped 80 paces from the edge of the battle. 4 young girls stepped out of the first line. They were dressed in black, faces painted white. The mark of the angels were carved into their dresses.

The old man thought back to the legends and shivered. Surely, those were old wives’ tales.

The girls raised their hands and started chanting. Lighting bolts started raining out of the sky.

The old man knelt down and wept. He had lost. Yet, the Six Towers would be defeated. He looked back as the southern gate cracked and fell. Then cries rang out and the endless lines of peasants rushed towards the Towers.

There are an infinite number of very good authors and an even larger number of very good books

A large portion of my time in 2013 has been spent browsing through ebook stores and app stores and finding the good books & apps out of the endless lists.

A few similarities stand out -

  1. It’s shocking how bad the search engines and discovery engines are. Apple and Google and Amazon almost seem to be trying to make it hard to find ‘the next great read’ or ‘the next great app’. It’s particularly puzzling in the case of Google. They make their money from search. Surely, they could come up with an app search engine that at least pretends to work.
  2. There’s a race to zero. People keep getting upset when this is mentioned – that doesn’t change the fact that it’s happening. Apps are all free or $1 or $3. The only app companies making non-trivial amounts of money are ones that either sell a service or product OUTSIDE of the App Stores (think Netflix) or the ones that sell people purple cows and rainbow candies for $1 each (Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, Zynga, etc.). With books we are seeing more and more authors offer free books. Book prices are going down steadily. The stores are trying various things to prevent this, but the race to the bottom can’t be stopped. The stores are just delaying the inevitable – at which point all their investment into hardware and infrastructure is going to look like Genius. NOT!
  3. There’s an unlimited supply of both apps and books. There are millions of ebooks available and hundreds of thousands of apps available. Given that it takes at least a few minutes to try out a book sample or an app, you could literally spend your entire life trying out books and/or apps and never run out of choices. You wouldn’t even have to actually read a full book. Just a few minutes per book and you’d never run out of books. Authors are writing books and publishing them faster than anyone can read books.

However, there is one area in which ebook stores and app stores differ very, very widely -

  1. There are a very small number of really good apps. For any given users’ needs, out of the hundreds of thousands of apps available, only a few thousand would classify as ‘good’ and just a few hundred would classify as ‘very good’. In fact, if you wanted to be picky you could make a reasonable claim that there are just 5 to 25 very good apps in each app category. The rest are all basically worthless.
  2. There are a very, very, very large number of very good books. In each and every genre, there are hundreds of really good books. The problem is finding them.

Note: In some ways this is an unfair comparison. With books we have thousands of years of work, while with apps we have just 4-6 years of work on apps. The point remains – there are a very, very, very large number of readable books.

Why are there so many more ‘very good books’?

To write a good book you need just three ingredients -

  1. A life that provides enough experience and memories to write a good story. Let’s call this the ‘inspiration’ for the book.
  2. The ability to put the story down in words. Let’s call this the ‘writing skills’ part.
  3. A platform to publish your work.

If you consider that 73% of people want to write a book, and that perhaps 5% to 10% of them have enough of the above two ingredients, we end up with a shockingly high number of ‘very good’ books.

The third part, a platform, is now freely available. Kindle Store. Nook Store. Kobo Store. iBooks Store. All of them accept books from ANYONE. No gilded wings or silver spoon required.

Please Note: By ‘very good’ we don’t mean ‘the best book ever written’. We mean a book that a reader enjoys reading. That’s it – a very good read.

Making a very good app is much tougher because -

  1. Firstly, you need the coordination of a lot of different skills OR the combination of a group of people with different skills. The first is nearly impossible and the second is really hard to manage.
  2. Secondly, apps cost a LOT more to make.
  3. Thirdly, in apps there are lots and lots of places you can go wrong – design, coding, testing, etc.
  4. Fourthly, the approval process for apps is painful. There are a thousand reasons an app might get rejected. Much of the credit for this goes to the ‘Closed Ecosystems’ that use ‘quality’ as an excuse to filter according to their personal biases and their own motives.

Basically, writing a good book just needs someone who can write well and who has enough inspiration and motivation. For an app you need a team of people and all/most of them have to have time and skills and inspiration and life experience.

You write a good book and every store will take it. With an app each store has its own requirements and review processes.

The second big factor is that a LOT more people can write a book than can code or program an app.

While lots of people might WANT to make an app, a ridiculously small percentage of them can actually code or design or test. On the other hand, a huge percentage of people can write and are quite capable of writing a book. Interestingly, more people want to write a book (73% in the US) than read a book (13% to 20%, depending on what statistics company you check with).

This brings us to the topic of this post.

There are an infinite number of very good authors

By infinite we mean – so many that, for the average reader, you are NEVER going to run out of good books to read written by these authors.

The reason we still struggle to find good books to read is that

A) Lots of these authors haven’t been given a shot.

B) The Discovery process is completely broken. By design. The stores want lots of books to be able to say ‘We have 2.45 million books’ but then turn around and show only the books they want to sell. It’s a different sort of gatekeeping.

Most of these ‘very good’ authors haven’t been given a shot to even publish. That’s why you aren’t getting enough books you love at prices you love. That’s the key thing that’s going to change in the next 5 to 15 years -

  1. We’ll see tens of millions of talented and inspired and ‘capable of writing very good books’ authors get a chance to publish their books.
  2. We’ll see systems come into place to bring these ‘very good books’ to readers. Very good discovery engines and ‘what to read next’ engines and serendipity engines and search engines.

When that happens, we’ll see -

  1. An infinite number of very good authors rise up.
  2. An infinite number of very good books become available.

Try an experiment and see this for yourself.

Your Experiment: Seeing for yourself that Sales Rank isn’t indicative of Writing Talent or Book Quality

Pick your favorite Genre of Books. Go to any store (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Sony) -

  1. Pick out a few of the best-selling books.
  2. Pick out a few of the books just out of the Top 100 lists.
  3. Find and pick out some of the books that have very low sales ranks.

It’s important to pick out books that seem interesting to you. Basically, pick the books you’re drawn to. Just make sure to pick them from different sales rank ranges.

You’ll notice a few interesting things -

  1. There will be almost no difference between the books qualitatively. What I mean is – the books will, for the most part, be roughly as good as each other.
  2. There will be a LOT of very good books that don’t see many sales. It’s absolutely stunning how many super good books are lost in the lists and piles.
  3. There will be some rather poor books that will see lots of sales.

Where it gets really interesting is that you’ll see the EXACT SAME PATTERN if you pick books in -

  1. The Top 100.
  2. The Top 1,000.
  3. The Top 10,000.
  4. The Top 100,000.

While there will be a higher percentage of good books in the Top 100, there will still be lots of very good books outside the Top 100,000.

The first time you realize there are books with sales rank 125,785 that are really well written – It’s a huge shock.

Why are really good books not selling? Why does no one know about a really good book that even has great reviews? Why does no one know about the tens of thousands of such books that are adrift in the ‘No Visibility outside the Top 100′ sea?

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Online book stores have just a few shelves – Top 100, Movers & Shakers, Store Chosen Books

What did we get with the traditional model?

  1. Publishers chose just a few thousand authors each year. We had a total of perhaps a few hundred thousand authors.
  2. Bookstores chose to display 5,000 to 10,000 books. All of these books got shelf space and visibility.

What do we get with the new model?

  1. Absolutely anyone can publish. We’re rapidly approaching a stage where we’ll have (if we don’t already) millions of authors.
  2. Online stores are stuck displaying the Top 100 and perhaps a few hundred other books. So, instead of 5,000 to 10,000 books getting visibility in each store, and the books varying across the different stores, we get just 100 to 500 books highlighted in online stores and most stores having little variance in books shown.

We’ve gone from a few hundred thousand authors to a few million (we will be there soon). But the number of books getting visibility has gone from tens of thousands to a few hundred.

It’s IMPOSSIBLE for 95% of very good authors and very good books to get ANY visibility

Why? Well, for several reasons -

  1. The above mentioned aspect of only a few hundred books getting visibility in online stores.
  2. Stores wanting to highlight books they can sell for $10 or more and make money from. That leaves out nearly all authors trying to compete on price.
  3. Stores wanting to highlight books they publish themselves and/or books they get paid to promote.
  4. Most ‘very good’ authors having ‘no clue’ how to market.
  5. There being a huge scarcity of marketing opportunities for ebooks. Where could you get visibility when the stores are the only channels?

Why talk about all of this? Because this is hiding a New Key Reality in Books.

There are an infinite number of very good authors now

By infinite we mean ‘so many that you’ll never run out of very good authors to read’.

What you’re seeing now are just a few of the Publisher built-up authors and a few of the Indie authors who understood how to thrive in the new world of Publishing and/or got picked by the stores.

They are just 3% to 5% of the very good authors.

Most very good authors are failing in making themselves seen and read. There are a LOT of authors who are writing books good enough to be bestsellers but aren’t able to get even a few dozen people to read their books and see for themselves.

The system is failing them.

And by failing these ‘very good authors’, the system is failing readers.

There are an infinite number of very good books

Most authors write more than one book.

Sometimes, even not-so-good authors produce a gem.

Quite a few very good authors produce more than one ‘very good book’.

That means that -

  1. Only 3% to 5% of the very good authors have been discovered.
  2. Only 1% to 2% of the very good books have been discovered.

You can see this happen every single day.

There’ll be a book with 1 review or 2 reviews. It gets mentioned somewhere. In a few weeks it has 50 good reviews.

There are books that had no reviews in 2011 that now have hundreds or even thousands of 5 star reviews.

While this happens all the time in books (with new books, and sometimes with old books), it’s happening at a MUCH faster rate with ebooks.

Why?

Because more and more very good authors are jumping into publishing their books (often themselves). Because more and more very good books are being published.

On the Cusp of Infinite Very Good Books

In Summary, we’re on the cusp of a Publishing World where the both the number of very good authors and very good books is going to be infinite.

All three statements are worth thinking about -

  1. There are an infinite number of very good authors.
  2. There are an even larger number of very good books.
  3. We’re soon going to be in a world where readers can easily find ALL/Most of these authors and books.

This is what scares the Old Publishers and the New Publishers. This is what they are fighting against. All the moves you see, are the last attempts of the Gatekeepers to keep readers and authors detached from each other and from Reality.

Apple price-fixing case will helps books and ebooks and readers in ways people don’t realize yet

In the wake of Apple being found guilty of conspiring with Publishers to fix ebook prices, people are reacting in very emotion-driven ways.

How could the Judge find Apple guilty? How could the Judge make things easier for Amazon? What will save us from Amazon now? Does this really help customers?

People are reacting so strongly that this story is the #1 story on both Techmeme and Mediagazer.

It’s interesting to see most people miss the point completely -

  1. Apple eBook Ruling doesn’t do much for consumers.
  2. For Consumers, not much changes. For Apple, a lot could.
  3. Forbes find it hard to believe Apple is wrong – Did Apple conspire to raise prices?
  4. David Streitfeld at NY Times – E-Book Ruling gives Amazon an Advantage.

Let’s look at what this ruling REALLY does.

Precedent

This court verdict, especially if upheld on appeal, establishes precedent.

  1. Any group of powerful companies, when trying similar things in future, will know that they are going to get slapped. Particularly true in books and ebooks and Publishing.
  2. Precedent that doing something wrong will probably get you punished.
  3. Precedent that any company (group of companies) that causes prices to go up 30% or more for consumers, illegally, will get brought to justice.
  4. Precedent that even a media darling company like Apple can’t bypass Justice. If you read some of the Press’ articles it’s just disappointing to see them use weak strategy like ‘Amazon shouted and screamed in meetings’ to try and get Apple off the hook. Precedent that all the media could be your dumb brainwashed little lapdogs and you’ll still get brought to justice. This is a very big deal.
  5. Precedent that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

You can paint any picture you like. The bottom-line is that Apple and Publishers introduced the Agency Model and caused tens of millions of readers to either pay higher prices or wait for 6 to 12 months. That’s just not the right thing to do. What kind of parent raises their kids to do things like that? Seriously – would you raise your kids to exploit other people in that way? To take away a book they were dying to read for 6 to 12 months, unless they paid an exorbitant price for it?

Readers are the people who pay for EVERYTHING. To mistreat them like this is just wrong.

Note: Most companies, including Amazon, have their own little ‘we’re too big for our breeches’ episodes. That’s why it’s important to show that no company, no matter how big and powerful, can get away with doing wrong things.

Creative Destruction and Ensuring Progress

What Apple and Publishers were trying to do, and what now Amazon is trying to do, is stop the Creative Destruction that is happening in Publishing.

It’s inevitable. The existing gatekeepers will fall. Then the new gatekeepers, so happy to seize the opportunity that they don’t see the barbarians at the gate, will fall.

If we let Apple and Publishers get away with it, then it makes Amazon and the new gatekeepers feel they can get away with it too. Now, they know they might get caught. They will still try. However, we have PRECEDENT and we have punishments.

The second great revolution in publishing is not going to end with one gatekeeper replacing another. It’s going to end when gatekeepers are replaced by servants. Servants who serve authors and readers instead of lording over them.

The Court’s decision ensures that some of the obstacles slowing down the much-needed creative destruction are struck down. More importantly, it ensures that the people busy setting up new obstacles think ten times before doing evil.

Room for New Players

Who’s going to take books and publishing forward?

  1. Publishers and Apple, who want to pretend we’re in the paperbook world.
  2. Amazon, who wants to pretend that we’re in the paperbook world with Publishers replaced by Amazon.
  3. Readers and Authors.
  4. New Players that serve Readers and Authors.

Only 3 and 4 are actually interested in progress.

The dream situation for Publishers is for eBooks to suddenly stop growing or die out. The dream situation for Amazon is for eBooks to replace books but within Amazon’s closed ecosystem.

Readers, Authors, New players – they all want a new system. They will get it.

Why? Because attempts by the existing gatekeepers and attempts by the self-anointed rising gatekeepers, to impede progress -

A) Will only delay the inevitable.

B) Will lead to court decisions like this one, and give the guilty parties the double slap of public shaming and destruction of their strategy.

The number and types of moats that can be built to protect the existing castles and fortifications just got reduced drastically.

Consumer Focus

What won the case?

The fact that the HARD FACTS showed that prices went up due to Apple’s efforts. That this was bad for consumers.

At the very least, this ensures that future meddlers and scum, who try similar tactics, will try to minimize damage to customers when they try to corner the market.

That can only be good for readers. If all the players involved are painfully aware that any exploitation or abuse of readers/customers will lead to eventual justice.

Better shot for Indie Authors

If companies had the option to just make indie authors disappear, they would.

Now, any attempts to hinder/hide/handicap indie authors will be rethought. Because if these methods get found out, and it can be shown that it led to higher book prices for readers, then it’s the exact same mess that Apple got into.

You can bet a lot of emails are getting deleted at various eBook platform companies regarding handicaps and boosts and pricing methodologies that are not pro-customer.

No company will want trouble of the sort Apple has gotten into. At best, they will stop their meddling with indie author rankings. At worst, they will use even more subtle, hard to track methods – these, in turn, will perhaps be less effective.

This ruling HURTS Amazon, not helps it

Why could Apple and Publishers pull off the Agency Model? Because they had the power. This is the KEY thing everyone is missing. Without power you can’t do much abuse.

What company has the most power now? Amazon.

So, the company most likely to abuse power is Amazon, not anyone else.

If the Court and the Judge clearly indicate that they will not stand for abuse of power that hurts consumers, then Amazon is going to be wary. What damage can Apple do in books now? Not very much. Amazon, on the other hand can cause lots of problems. This ruling serves as a strong warning to them to not abuse their power too much.

This ruling is a warning to Tech Companies that try to prostitute users and their rights

You could bet $1 million dollars that in dozens, if not hundreds, of companies’ boardrooms, this ruling is being discussed and has served as a warning.

If you do things that hurt consumers’ best interests, then you might be brought to justice. All these companies know that they aren’t the media’s darlings, or America’s Favorite Tech Company that makes everything in China, or the company that made thousands of people rich via its stock (well, up to $700 it did).

If Apple can get hammered, then so can they.

In Summary – It’s about the Future of Books

This isn’t about allegiance to a company, wariness of another company, or about looking out for your own selfish best interests.

It’s about what THE RIGHT THING TO DO is.

What’s the right thing for readers? What’s the right thing for authors? What’s the right thing for the future of books?

District Judge Denise Cote has ruled in favor of doing the RIGHT thing for Readers and Authors. Every few years, there’ll be a company that has power in books, and tries to exploit readers and/or authors for its own selfish interests. It’s up to readers and authors and the DOJ and the Judicial system (which might be our only hope) to fight against this. Only the powerful can prevent abuse of power. Only readers and authors and the judicial system can protect the future of books and reading and readers and authors.

How can Indie Authors create Sustainable Competitive Advantages?

Jack Welch had 6 rules. One of them was – If you don’t have a Competitive Advantage, don’t compete.

This is true in pretty much every field and every business.

Indie Authors currently have lots of competitive advantages and several important competitive disadvantages. Their success, and their ability to ward off all the ‘indie authors are bad for writing’ attacks and the subterfuge of the stores, depends on building up sustainable competitive advantages and rendering Publishers’ competitive advantages unsustainable.

Let’s explore how Indie Authors can create sustainable competitive advantages that will allow them to become the superstar authors of the future.

Cialdini’s Influence & Seeing Reality As It Is

A lot of this post will be based around Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. If you’re an indie author, you need to read this book. It’s that simple.

A lot of this post will also factor in another of Jack Welch’s 6 Rules – See Reality As It Is, Not as it Was, or as You Want it To be.

This (Seeing Reality As It Is, in the Present) is very, very critical. You have to understand that we’re in a different world. There are a few realities to think about carefully -

  1. This isn’t the Publisher controlled world any more. Readers will buy your books if it’s good. The relentless drop in prices in ebook stores is proof of this. Only Indie Authors and ex-Published Authors dropped to $1 and $3 initially. Now everyone is being forced to. Readers bought those books without the stamp of Publishers. They still are.
  2. Absolutely anyone can top the charts now. This sounds like heresy. However, there are now so many different websites and apps and channels to promote books that you just need enough marketing. It doesn’t matter what the quality of the books is. Price the book at $1, get it listed in enough places, and you’ll hit #1. It’s not just a possibility, it’s guaranteed. If you don’t believe me, then see what Amazon Publishing is doing with its titles. All the titles that people weren’t even buying are now in the Top 100 (with a few exceptions). Note: Amazon Publishing uses all the sites and channels I’m talking about. Strange as it seems, Amazon pays other people to advertise their own books in their own store. This shows how powerful the outside channels have become. The first really hard to believe reality you have to admit, and internalize, is that with sufficient marketing (which is attainable by ANYONE with some money) you can get your book to #1 in the Store. It doesn’t matter how good the book is. Quality and Product Market Fit only determines how long the book will stay in the Top 100.
  3. Absolutely anyone is topping the charts now (notice the subtle difference). If you don’t believe this, take a look at what happens with the Kindle Daily Deal. Most of those books are not special. Yet they almost always hit the Top 10 or Top 20. Take a look at all the $1 and $3 books in the Top 100. Read the reviews. These aren’t marvellously written books. There aren’t once-in-a-lifetime books. A few are undoubtedly very, very good. However, most are just normal to good books.
  4. Amazon’s job isn’t to help you. In fact, even Amazon isn’t clear what its job is. It’s torn between suppressing lower priced books to make money, promoting its own titles, and keeping book prices low to bring people into its ecosystem. This means that you absolutely MUST assume that Amazon will use books as the loss leader. So the only way you can make a living from books is planning around that. How do you make money if Amazon turns books into loss leaders? In a way, this is already happening. The average selling price of a Top 100 book is $6.287. That includes $13 and $10 books from Publishers - Which means that the average selling price for Indie titles is between $1 and $4. How will you survive in that world?
  5. Publishers are stuck. They need to make enough money to keep their massive dinosaur engines running. At the same time prices for ebooks are dropping and the market share of ebooks is rising. What does that mean? It means they have to carve out more for themselves and less for authors. There is no workaround around that reality – If Indie Authors succeed, Publishers and Published Authors die. They aren’t writing long meandering essays on ‘Quality of Books is Falling’ because they care about the quality of books, or because it is (it is, actually). What they really mean is – All these annoying Indie Authors are selling good books for $1 when they should be selling for $10 like we are. It’s unfair.

These are REALITIES. You’ll have to test them (see the facts and then see what the facts show you, not what you want to believe) and then accept them (if the facts show you that these are indeed Realities).

You’ll have to replace all the negative beliefs and misconceptions with these Realities. Get rid of all the brainwashing -

  1. You need Publishers to approve you. This might be true if you are looking for validation. If you actually want to sell books and be read and make money, then you only need to publish your books. Self-publishing achieves that.
  2. You need to sell paper books. You don’t. Again, if this is part of your need for validation or your need to impress your friends and family, then it’s fine. However, it doesn’t matter whether or not your books are stocked in stores. If you succeed with ebooks, Publishers will flock to you and this will happen automatically.
  3. You can’t make money from $1 books. Yes, you can. You just need to sell more. The current ebook stores are optimized for a model of $1 to $5 books that sell at high volumes. You don’t really have any other choice if you’re an indie author. Soon, no one will have any other choice – might as well switch and adapt now.
  4. You need Amazon to succeed. You don’t. There are indie authors who are in the Top 100 in B&N and making enough to not care two hoots about Amazon. If you sell well, then it hurts Amazon to not have you, so they will come for you.
  5. You can’t make money being an indie author. There are lots of indie authors making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. A few are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. If you want to make more than that – well, first you should figure out how many authors actually make millions a month. It’s not a long list.
  6. You can’t gain recognition as an indie author. If you get a movie deal or a Top 10 rank – that’s recognition. It doesn’t matter whether you’re ‘published’ or not.

This part is the toughest. This is where a lot of indie authors fail. The more you can drum out all the brainwashing and look at things with a clean slate, the higher the chance you can pick the right approach for you (and that might be Publishers). The key is – Publishers are one option out of many. Same for signing up with Amazon.

Now, on to the real stuff.

Indie Authors’ Competitive Advantages

  1. Value for Money. Indie Authors can price their books at $1 and $3. This does two things – Kills Publisher Books at $7 and $9 and $13, Reduces the friction in a user buying and trying your book. At $1 to $5, you’ll have 10 to 3 times more readers willing to take a chance on your book. If you don’t have the first book in a series (or one of you books) free, or at $1, then you’re losing your biggest competitive advantage.
  2. Being able to sell at $1 to $3. Not only is this making you more attractive, it is killing Publishers. Literally killing them. If 20 indie authors at $1 and $2 are selling in the Top 100, that means 20 books at $10 and $13 aren’t. Publishers are losing millions every single day. The faster the transition happens, the less time Publishers have to adapt. Indie Authors can not only gain a big competitive advantage by pricing their books between $1 and $3, they can also literally kill off Publishers.
  3. No Illusion that Marketing will magically happen. A lot of published authors are under the misconception that they can just write. Apart from the established superstars, everyone has to market themselves. As an Indie Author you are free of any misconceptions that the Marketing Fairy will magically make everyone aware your book exists.
  4. A Deeper Connection with Readers. Who do you think readers relate to better - Big large soulless corporations or new authors making a name for themselves? As an indie author, you’re the People’s Champion. Your readers will fight for you. Give them a chance. You have to do your part and give of yourself – be available, talk to your readers, get feedback, be a human being and not a name on a cover. Get yourself out there.
  5. Speed to Market. Read this post on Indie Authors being much faster to market. You can react quicker. You can improve your books quicker. You can send out sequels quicker. You can react to and cater to Hot New Markets quicker.
  6. Creative Control. There are multiple perspectives on what might work and what might not. The truth is that you don’t really know. No one does. If a Hot New Market exists or is created, you can cater to it. However, there’s no way you can guarantee your book creates a new market. If you just want to write something in your heart, with self-publishing you have total creative control. In my opinion, this leads to better work, provided indie authors embrace quality enhancers like editing and proofreading.
  7. Constant Improvement of the Book itself. As an Indie Author you can take the typos and errors and keep adding to them. You can add free stories. You can add sequels. You can add downloads like wallpapers and stories and illustrations. A Publisher will move very slowly and a Publisher will only do this when a book is a success. You, on the other hand, can keep improving the value proposition and the quality of the book. If you don’t do this, you’re throwing away a big competitive differentiator.
  8. Betting 100% on eBooks & Optimizing for eBooks. Publishers have to sabotage ebooks to ensure their paper book sales don’t die out. So, you get strange things like delayed releases and crazy prices. You also get a total neglect of ebook marketing, ebook polish and quality, and other factors like social marketing. You are free. You can focus on all the things that are needed. Think of it as Entity A running a hotel and on the side running a Bed & Breakfast. However, it doesn’t really want to run the Bed & Breakfast and that shows through in lots of ways. You, on the other hand, are in LOVE with your Bed & Breakfast and take joy in making your Bed & Breakfast excellent in every way.
  9. Incorporating Customer Feedback & Strengthening Customer Relationships. This is different from 4. A Deeper Connection to Readers. There, you were showing your human side and using Likability and Familiarity to create a bond. Here, you are showing you genuinely care about their reading experience and strengthening it. It’s akin to deepening a friendship by taking a road trip together.

Note: We’ll use a lot of principles of influence throughout. We don’t mean it in a sleazy ‘magical and revolutionary’ sort of way. We really mean it. Now you’re one to one with your readers so only integrity and genuinely caring will work. If you don’t really care for readers then work with Publishers so that you can hide that disadvantage.

We have to use influence because our competitors (Publishers, Platforms) are, and because they have way too many unfair advantages.

Indie Authors’ Competitive Disadvantages

Eliminating some of these is important, especially the first.

  1. Lack of Quality Control, Lack of Curation. Would it be crazy to suggest that the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and 5-days-free offers were attempts to dilute the march of the best indie authors? Perhaps. Perhaps truth is stranger than fiction. This (lack of quality control, lack of curation) is the single biggest competitive disadvantage for indie authors. There’s no curation and that suggests that all indie author titles are garbage.
  2. Too Much Supply. This is a competitive disadvantage in the sense that it makes it hard for indie authors to make money. However, the workaround is to use Free and $1 for Marketing and then sell the rest of your books at higher prices.
  3. No Awareness amongst Readers. This is the second biggest disadvantage. How do you let readers know you exist? There are various choices – Free as Marketing, Cheap as Marketing, buy advertising, build your own channels. Unfortunately, all of these require hard work and they require authors to venture into uncomfortable territory – marketing, sales, pre-sales.
  4. No Marketing Channels that Authors own themselves. This has to be fixed. If this isn’t fixed then there’s no point to what you are doing. You want a strong, PERMANENT channel to your readers. Which you own COMPLETELY – 100%. Not a Facebook or Twitter account. None of that nonsense. Your OWN blog (with a custom domain you own 100%) and your own email newsletter.
  5. No Money. This is a tough one. How do you market? polish? write? … if you don’t have the money to buy services and time. I don’t have an answer.
  6. Lack of Brand and Branding. I think indie authors should just skip this and focus on building their marketing channels and building real relationships with their readers and with their 1,000 true fans.
  7. Lack of Market Intelligence. This is a really hard one. The only way to gain this is to sell books. You can try to buy it, but it’s expensive and doesn’t work as well. It helps to create Author Master Minds. However, how do you find 5 to 10 other indie authors who are focused and willing to put aside all their brainwashing?
  8. Lack of Belief. Nothing works except you being ready to stop being a serf.
  9. Lack of Guile. This is really tough. Guile requires a few things that aren’t easy to acquire – street smarts, experience, a variable moral compass. This isn’t necessary but it helps.
  10. No Customer Relationships or Intent to Build Them. This is key. You can do well without customer relationships. However, these (customer relationships) are literally the foundation on which you build a sustainable career. If you aren’t willing to do this perhaps you should consider another line of work or sign up with a Publisher.

These are very big disadvantages. There’s no denying that. The good thing is that the advantages are bigger, and that most of these disadvantages can be neutralized or circumvented.

Creating Sustainable Competitive Advantages

There’s one key thing to understand -

  1. A competitive advantage will let you win. A single competitive advantage could be enough to win the battle. An example is pricing – Pricing your book at $1 is powerful enough that it, alone, can allow indie authors to destroy Publishers in book sales.
  2. To keep winning, you need sustainable competitive advantages. With a sustainable competitive advantage, you can win the war. Example: A relationship you build with your readers. Publishers and Authors build brands but most of them don’t really put effort into building relationships. Authors are happy to let Publishers handle all communication. Publishers are happy to let booksellers handle all interaction. Any indie author who actively engages with her/his readers will create a sustainable competitive advantage. If all other things are equal, we choose the product from the person/company we like and are familiar with.

Cialdini’s points on Liking and Familiarity are key. There’s the brand recognition aspect and there’s the personal human aspect. The Human aspect wins every single time.

What Sustainable Competitive Advantages can Indie Authors build?

  1. $1 to $3 books. If Indie Authors stick with prices that most Publishers can’t survive on, and which most other indie authors won’t go with, for strange reasons like ‘believing my unproven work is worth $10′, they can create one sustainable competitive advantage.
  2. Their own channels to readers. Email lists. Blogs. Social Network connections. While every published author depends on Publishers. While most indie authors do nothing or depend on advertising. You can build your own channels that you control yourself. If you’ve sold 250,000 books and release a new one – Guess which readers are the most likely to buy your new book. Well, you better create channels to them and for them. Even releasing an app which has one book free and then updates readers about your other books isn’t extreme. Why? Because when you release new books, you can send a message to the App and to your readers. You can reach all of them quickly and for free.
  3. A Human Connection and Relationship. If a reader likes your book and then gets to interact with you – That greatly increases the chances that reader will buy one or more of your other books. You now have the opportunity to do virtual book signings and tours and meet lots and lots of your readers. It would be laziness and stupidity not to. The 1,000 true fans are the most important – If you can’t meet the rest, at least build connections with these 1,000 true fans.
  4. Speed & Optimized Processes. Build up processes and tools and procedures so that you can do things faster and better than anyone else. If you can whittle down things so that a book takes you 6 months to release, and most Publishers and Authors take 2 years, then you can release 4 books in the time they release 1. They simply can’t compete.
  5. A Large Portfolio. The single biggest sustainable advantage you have is a large portfolio of books. Why? Each book feeds each other. You can create a Book Network. The minute you hit 5-6 books (and not books in a single series) you’ll see serious network effects. If a reader likes your book, and you have only 1 book, then you’re finished. If, on the other hand, you have 21 books, then you might see 1 or 2 or even 20 more purchases from that reader.
  6. Marketing Skills and Channels. This is similar to 2. All the channels you build while doing marketing are channels to readers. They are also channels to market your new books. This is why it’s important to build channels you control completely or are run by honest people. Facebook changed the rules so that now you can reach only a fraction of your followers, unless you pay for a ‘sponsored post’. Lesson: Build up your blog and email lists. Build your own little Pottermore or your own free apps.
  7. Book Quality. You are nimble and focused on delivering the absolute best reading experience. That means you can take your book from 80/100 to 95/100 in quality and polish. Most Publishers simply can’t afford to get beyond 90/100. Most indie authors never get beyond 75/100. Get all/most your books to 95/100 in polish – You’ll have an advantage that no one else can match.
  8. Optimizing for eBooks and Constantly Improving. If you start running in ebooks – learn strategies, polish, learn marketing, learn how ebooks work. Well, you’ll gain a strong advantage. Now, if you keep running and keep improving, everyone else can never catch up. Plus you’ll need comparatively less time and effort to keep improving, while the ones trailing you have to put in 3-4 times more work and effort.

There are other sustainable competitive advantages indie authors can build up. The sustainable part is most important – It has to be something you control and which no one else can take away. It has to be something that can’t be duplicated easily. There will also be sustainable competitive advantages that are UNIQUE to who YOU are. Figure those out.

The key thing to remember is that very, very few people have competitive advantages in ebooks and even fewer have sustainable ones. If you start now and focus, you can get way ahead of the field. It might seem ludicrous to suggest that you could build stronger marketing channels than even Amazon and B&N and Publishers. However, this is exactly what some smart authors and companies are doing – and a few of them will succeed (some have already succeeded).

The very things that were strengths for the Publishers and Platforms are turning into liabilities. You get to start afresh without having to guard any existing assets. It’s a huge advantage. Perhaps the biggest if leveraged right.

Destroying the sustainability of Competitive Advantages Publishers and Published Authors have

This is a touchy subject. The serfs (indie authors and us readers) aren’t supposed to question the God-given right of Publishers and Published Authors. Perhaps the Platforms, once they have more power, will feel they have special status too.

However, we aren’t in medieval Europe. It’s time to fight fire with fire.

What are Publishers striking at – The Quality Perception of Indie Books. Strike back. Publishers spend 90% of their effort on paper books. They then make low-quality ebook versions and sell them for outrageous prices.

Tell readers the truth – Your ebook versions get 100% of your time and effort. They aren’t treated like third-class citizens. They aren’t delayed. They aren’t overpriced. They aren’t sacrificed at the altar of paper book sales.

What are Platforms doing – giving subtle marketing and awareness advantages to their own titles and to high-priced books. They don’t even have the courage to be open about their attempts. The Platforms use small meaningless influence tactics that Cialdini would probably laugh at. Even Sheep (literal sheep, with wool and stuff) wouldn’t fall for that weak stuff. Note: That’s why it isn’t working. That’s why low priced books are still taking over.

Beat them on price and quality. There are already 21 books at $1 in the Top 100. All you have to do is deliver quality. The $1 price does the rest.

$1 and $0 are so Powerful they should be Illegal

$1 is magical – It’s marketing. It reduces friction. It increases sales. It gets readers willing to buy all your books, instead of just a few.

Notice how indie authors who gambled on $1 and $3 saw lots and lots of their books hit the top of the charts.

John Locke and Amanda Hocking had, at times, 3 of the Top 10 titles in the Kindle Store. Including #1. Why would that happen? Because the books were ALL cheap. Very little friction. That’s the power of $1.

$1 can destroy every single handicap and algorithm tweak the Platforms throw at it.

Free? Free is even more powerful.

Guess what Publishers and Platforms can’t afford – $0 and $1. Even Amazon got scared of $0 and ran away from free kindle book promotions. It’s hiding the Top 100 Free Books list now.

As an Indie Author, you aren’t scared. You can use $0 as powerful marketing. Then you can use $1 to get readers more invested. Then $3 to make a decent amount of money.

All of the Competitive Advantages Publishers and Platforms have are Unsustainable

That’s just the truth. Every single advantage they have is based on a world that has already gone. A world where there were gates and there were all-powerful gatekeepers.

There is no Gate, Neo.

Now Publishers and Platforms are using weak freshman year psychology and illusions and fancy words to pretend they still have power.

Just strip away the illusions.

There’s not a single competitive advantage Publishers have that is sustainable.

The only two sustainable advantages Platforms have are ‘Curation’ and ‘Convenience’. All it takes is one intelligent algorithm – whether crowd-sourced or silicon-sourced. That’s all. Those two advantages will be gone. Note: The stores aren’t very good at curation. They aren’t even really trying.

If you can’t wait for algorithms or crowds, then just build your own channels and speak to readers directly. They would like that.

The bottom line is – We’re in a completely different world. All the competitive advantages Publishers and Platforms have are unsustainable. All the real sustainable competitive advantages are ones that Indie Authors can build better than Publishers or Platforms – because they have no baggage and no existing paper book markets to protect. Indie Authors have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They have no old mindsets they have been trained in, unless they are exceptionally attached to past patterns (which makes no sense – you weren’t even getting published, why believe in that ancient world). The entire world of books and publishing is changing and the wolves have been let loose. I don’t see any way that Publishers and Platforms can fight them all off. Now it’s just a question of which wave of wolves tears out the throats of Publishers. How many waves after that before the Platforms are reduced to enablers instead of gatekeepers.

Are there more Authors than Readers?

My time on Twitter makes me wonder more and more about something I’ve suspected for a long time – There might be more Authors than Readers.

Questions worth Pondering

  1. Are there more Authors than Readers?
  2. What’s stronger – The Desire to Read OR The Desire to Be Read?
  3. Is it really true that 80% of Americans want to write a book? Note: I’m in no way endorsing that site.
  4. Now that it’s so easy and straightforward to write and publish your own book – How many of those 80% of Americans will write a book?
  5. Is writing a book a means to make yourself immortal and/or leave a legacy?
  6. Is writing a book one of the deepest ways to actually communicate with others?
  7. With all these companies serving readers, who serves authors’ needs?

We could go on and on.

The world of Books and Publishing is changing. A lot of people are very focused on what happens with Publishers and the Top 100 Charts.

However, the real questions have to do with Authors and what happens in the Long Tail. The area between the Top 250 and the 10,000s in sales rank. Who are the authors who are getting read? Who are increasing their readership?

If we consider human communication, there is obviously value in the people who reach tens of millions of people and what they have to say. However, most of the truly meaningful conversations are in much smaller groups.

Are the Small Successes in Books more important than the Big Ones?

Let’s contrast two situations -

  1. A bestselling author writes a book that’s good entertainment and it sells 1 million copies. A few hundred thousand people read it and enjoy it and consider it good entertainment.
  2. An author writes a book that’s very targeted at a particular audience and it sells 10,000 copies. Half of those people read it and are really moved by it. For a few thousand people it’s a life changing experience.

There are, of course, bestsellers that can be a life-changing experience too. However, the more targeted you get, the higher the chance you have of really impacting people and speaking to their hearts.

That, in my opinion, is one of the major reasons that so many people want to write a book. As humans we pass on our lessons and experiences via stories. Writing a book does that – It allows us to progress and evolve and share our learning and experiences.

You want to tell your story. Just as stories you heard from your parents and grandparents helped you form a better picture of the world, you want to let people benefit from your life experiences.

The more you narrow down your audience and speak specifically to them – the higher the chance you impact them. Of course, with sufficient skill you can write a very general book that touches tens of millions of people very deeply.

However, what about the hundreds of millions of people who have valuable things to share but are never going to get ‘bestseller writer’ level of skill or publicity? What about them? They should have a means to reach people too. Even if it’s just a few thousand or a few hundred.

That’s what we are seeing with ebooks and ereaders. An immense number of people are suddenly getting the opportunity to share their stories with the people they need to share them with.

Everyone has a story to share. How many people are willing to listen?

We have hundreds of millions of people around the world that are reaching the stage where they have enough rich life experience to write meaningful things. We also have nearly as many people who understand the nuances well enough to write things that thrill and give pleasure and scare and excite and connect.

Even among the younger generations we have some fine writers.

Unfortunately, of the billions of people around the world, we might not have as many people who are willing to listen or read or even be open to the stories being shared.

How many talkers do you know? How many good listeners?

If writing a book is telling a story, and if reading a book is connecting with that story, it’s worth asking – Is it easier to read a story or to write a story?

A World where everyone has a Story to Share and a Means to Share It, but Perhaps No One to Read It.

With self-publishing so easy now, we might see a shift where people being to think of writing books the way they thinking of starting a blog – Let’s just do it.

There’s no risk. It’s easy. It’s straightforward. You don’t need to invest much money.

The rewards are pretty great. For a lot of authors, even a handful of people reading your book is a win. Anything is better than not being heard. Anything is vastly better than not taking a shot.

So, we end up with almost every single person who has a story to share thinking writing a book is a great idea. A Book – it holds so much more meaning than a blog or an online journal or a profile on a social network.

On the other hand, how many people are willing to read these books? In particular, are there enough readers to take a chance on all these first-time book authors?

Even before any actual reading happens, how do all these new authors reach readers. There are already over a million ebooks available in most ebook stores. The only books that actually get any visibility are the ones in the various Top 100 charts. Some people search but there are just too many books. If there are 150,000 romance ebooks, how are readers going to get through all of them? Do all the new authors have any way of standing out?

If Authors keep increasing, at some point of time they will exceed Readers

As more and more people share their stories and publish books, we’ll see the number of Authors exceed the number of readers. To make matters worse, people writing a book have less time for reading. It’s not inconceivable that we end up in a world where -

  1. There are more authors than readers.
  2. The biggest challenge shifts from ‘getting your book published’ to ‘getting your book noticed and read’.
  3. Finding readers becomes the key skill set that differentiates successful authors (not quality of writing).
  4. Readers just get swamped with choice. Imagine having 10 times more books than we have now, while the number of readers at most doubles.
  5. Authors start evolving more and more interesting strategies. There are already authors offering books for free, buying ad slots, offering gift cards for a review, and other crazy things. What happens once the situation gets worse?

Here’s the twist – I think it’s ALREADY happened. There are already more authors than there are readers.

We aren’t yet aware of this because most of the authors have tiny followings and no visibility. However, gradually it’ll become clearer and clearer that the number of authors is ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE. That it threatens to dwarf the number of readers.

What happens to Books and Publishing then? Perhaps the same that happens to any market where Supply massively exceeds Demand.

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