Kindles, eReaders & ‘Everyone is (should be) like me’ bias

There’s a very interesting bias amongst people who don’t read much, and perhaps even among people who read a lot -

The ‘Everyone else is (should be) like me’ bias.

This is a fundamental misattribution error – where you misattribute your own personal perspective/world view to EVERYONE else. Sometimes it’s worse – You realize other people aren’t like you, but you ASSUME that they are wrong and they should be like you.

Everyone is (should be) like me

Let’s look at some examples of this -

  1. I don’t read. That must mean that Everyone doesn’t read. The ex-CEO of Apple and the current CEO of Google are two examples of this. No one reads any more – By the way, we have 100 million people who are iBooks customers.
  2. I only read on LCD screens. That must mean Everyone should read on LCD screens.
  3. I think a Tablet is better than eReaders because a Tablet can do more than read. That must mean people who buy a device dedicated for reading don’t know what they are doing.
  4. I think eReaders should be $50 ($100? Free?) because reading isn’t important. I, personally, don’t think reading is important. So, a device that can’t be used for anything other than reading should be $50. Wait a minute while I fill up gas in my $23,000 car, wearing my $125 shoes and my $177 sunglasses. What were we talking about? Oh yes, there’s no way an eReader can be worth more than $50.
  5. I like Apple/Google because aesthetics/openness are so important and because Steve Jobs/Do No Evil is my hero. You are so evil and wrong because you think Google/Apple is better.
  6. I like Amazon/B&N because customer service/real people customer service is so important. You should like Amazon/B&N too because your reasons are meaningless compared to my marvellous reasons.
  7. I detest DRM because it violates my personal rights and it’s evil. eBooks are never going to take off with DRM because everyone in this world is like me.
  8. I love Amazon because it has great customer service/largest range of books/cheapest book prices. Everyone else values these exact same things. I don’t understand why anyone else would like an iPad or a Nook or a Sony eReader – so what if they are much better made hardware?
  9. I think Amazon needs to go to ePub because interoperability is paramount. Without going to ePub Kindle will be dead in 2 years. Is it 2 years already? I meant 4 years. Kindle will be dead in another 2 years.
  10. I read a lot on my iPad. 5 books a month. That must mean each of the 151 million iPad owners must also read 5 books a month. Which, in turn, must mean that ebooks are 279% of total book sales and Apple devices account for 587% of ebook sales. What is that you say? That’s more than 100%. Don’t try to overwhelm me with figures and statistics. I’m experiencing the higher plane of existence that animated page turns and reading on LCD screens in bright sunlight affords me.
  11. I think that people who bought a device dedicated for reading read less than people who bought a tablet that you can also read on. I’m basing this on my sample size of one. All those people should get Tablets instead. They could play Candy Crush Saga when they get tired of all the long words in books.

The crux is that you could take any viewpoint you believe strongly in, or any behavior characteristic, and delude yourself into thinking one of the following -

  1. Everyone else is the same as me. Everyone else will do the same things I will.
  2. Everyone else should believe/do what I do. Because I’m right and they are wrong.

This is very interesting. Why? Because our existence revolves around what we see and perceive and believe. It revolves around how we interpret the world.

That makes it really difficult, at first, to switch perspectives and try to see things from someone else’s perspective. Until you start doing it. Then it’s exceedingly easy. Because we have an unlimited capacity to IMAGINE another perspective or belief system and understand why other people think differently from us and do different things.

Guess what helps your imagination – Reading Books. So, and this is quite funny, people who don’t read books will have a harder time understanding other people’s perspectives. Which might explain why the thought of a dedicated reading device frustrates them so.

Kindle will be lucky to sell 40,000 units lifetime

That’s what one journalist wrote about the Kindle. To put that in perspective – a person whose livelihood revolves around people reading what he has written, thought Kindle would be a failure. People just don’t read anymore – except news, websites, books, magazines, newspapers, textbooks, signs, etc.

Here’s the amusing thing. Now we have 10 million eReaders sold every year. However, those journalists still can’t wrap their heads around the concept that people would want a device dedicated to reading.

They feel as if there was some tear in the time-space continuum and eReaders miraculously took off. That now the tear is mended and things will go back to how they should be. People who love to read will do their reading on a device optimized for movies and games.

People who don’t believe in eReaders, who think that it makes no sense to have a device dedicated to reading for people who love to read, now fight very strongly for certain things that will help validate their world-view -

  1. eReaders will soon die out.
  2. People who read once a year on their Tablets are more important than people who read once a day on their eReaders.
  3. Reading on a Tablet is better than reading on an eReader.
  4. Reading isn’t worth a dedicated device.
  5. Reading isn’t cool.

Notice how all of this isn’t about what is actually happening with readers and eReaders. It’s just people who don’t value reading trying to make sense of something they can’t understand.

It would be much simpler for them to simply realize that -

  1. Just like twittering and reading news articles and watching movies and playing little casual games is very important and meaningful to them.
  2. Reading is very important and meaningful to people who love to read.

That people who are buying devices dedicated to reading are no different from anyone who buys things that give them pleasure and are built/optimized for them. It’s the exact same thing.

Why does Reading make so many people defensive?

My assumption (and it is an assumption) is that Reading is something that worries a lot of people.

  1. It worries advertisers because people who read become smarter.
  2. It worries companies because then they can’t just show a pretty girl next to a car and make the car more attractive.
  3. It worries people who don’t read. At some deep level, they understand that watching After Earth and Transformers isn’t going to confer as much of a benefit as reading books and exercising your imagination will.
  4. It worries pretty much everyone who has been trained to hate reading by being forced to read things they didn’t want to read in school.
  5. It worries everyone who got taught that if they can’t ‘study’ books then they get pain (bad grades).

A large part of the population is brought up to detest books because books get associated with forced education of questionable value.

A large part of the corporate and advertising machine detests books because it makes people very, very hard to ‘influence’ via advertising.

Devices that cater to readers. Devices that result in people reading more. Devices that get more and more people to start reading. Devices that let people read, who were locked out of reading earlier.

They are a nightmare for everyone who detests books and reading and people exercising their imaginations.

People are hating eReaders even with $69 eReaders – So the problem isn’t the price of eReaders

When Kindle was $399 and people questioned the value, there was an implicit assumption that at $199 or $149 or $99 we would reach a ‘logical’ place. Where both readers and non-readers could agree that eReaders were a good thing.

Why hasn’t it happened?

Why do we have people, who are buying $199 and $499 Tablets, refusing to acknowledge that eReaders, even $69 ones, have their own unique value and benefits.

Perhaps the problem never was the price. Perhaps the problem was the perception that reading is worth a dedicated device.

If that is the case, then the problem lies entirely with people who don’t read books and/or don’t read much. For them, reading isn’t worth much. For them, a dedicated reading device doesn’t make sense. They are projecting that on to people who read. That leads to this whole ‘Everyone should be like me and read only on Tablets that aren’t optimized for reading’ circus.

I think over time, all these people who find Tablets so much better for reading books than eReaders, will read more and more books on their Tablets and develop a more mature perspective of things. Then they’ll see the value of a device dedicated to reading, just as we readers see the value of Tablets optimized for meaningless entertainment.

3 reasons full-length books are a better experience than short stories

Reading a book is an experience and a journey.

We take the story the author has laid down for us, and the context and framework she has created, and fill it out with our imaginations.

This is one of the key differentiators – why even a ‘frivolous’ thriller or ‘flaky’ romance novel is better than nearly any other type of entertainment. We are actively constructing the world in our heads. It’s our creation, our masterpiece – built on the framework and story the author provides.

The author might paint an exquisite framework – a lonely alley in 1865 London with a Vampire possibly hiding in the shadows. However, it’s just a framework. It’s we the readers who fill it out. What the alley looks like. What it feels like. The sights and sounds and smells. The feeling of fear. The Vampire.

This is why no movie based on a book ever measures up to our expectation of the book. The best director in the world can’t compare to the worlds we have created for ourselves. All the limitations he faces – just don’t exist in our imaginations.

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Which brings us to why full-length novels are much better than short stories and novellas.

A full-length novel does three things – it gives us enough time to fully flesh out the story in our heads, it allows us to fully connect with and feel for the characters (to develop an attachment to them), it allows us to step fully into the world of the book.

The first is all about submodalities and the fineness of the story-painting in our heads. With a short story we have ended before we have formed the images fully in our heads. The protagonist is a paper cutout instead of a person, the city is a movie-set instead of a living, breathing city. A full-length book allows us to create the world fully and fill it with the submodalities we like and imagine.

The second is about the characters. Over the course of a full-length novel we develop an attachment to the main characters. We understand them better. We think about their motivations and worry about them or hope they get their just desserts. They start morphing into people – people we wonder about and people we want to read more about.

The third is the experience of stepping out of our world and stepping into the world of the book. With a short story, by the time you begin to step from the cold, foggy street into the warm comfort of the house – the house has vanished. You’re left in the void between your own world and the beautiful, compelling world you were creating while reading. A full-length book lets you go further and further into the world. This is why we don’t want to leave a good book in the middle. It’s a world and a story that we are creating/building – one that literally draws us in.

This act of creating worlds in our heads. The passion and skill and actual effort involved in fleshing out all the details and creating something of our own. It’s Participation. Life is a Participation sport.

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What are the deeper implications of the shift to ebooks – for us

Let’s forget Publishers … and Authors … and all the companies that want to take over Publishing and Books.

That leaves us readers and our books.

We are migrating from books to ebooks and from a curated gatekeeper model to a mix of curation and long tail and ‘anyone can publish’.

What impact does it have on us?

Two Links to Set/Get some Context

Courtesy TeleRead we get two very interesting articles -

  1. Nicholas Carr warns schools about the potential switch to eBooks. Interestingly, this time he uses solid arguments to back up his gift for stringing words together poetically.
  2. At Quill and Quire, scientists in Toronto find that reading books changes people – that people create a simulation in their minds as they read and it has a measurable impact on personality (at least they claim it’s measurable). It might seem strange to do a study on something that seems pretty obvious to anyone who has ever read a good book. However, it never hurts to get proof that reading a book can have quite an impact on the reader.

Combine the two and we get an interesting thought – If Books really do change people, and if Nicholas Carr is right and ebooks aren’t as impactful as physical books, then are eBooks going to herald the dawn of a world where books no longer have as much impact?

eBooks come with advantages and disadvantages

If we think about the role books play and the impact they have on us, then it’s worth noting that eBooks are neither much worse nor much better than physical books.

eBooks just aren’t as good as Physical Books (in some respects)

Here are a few negatives (most of which Nicholas Carr has discussed at length, and in much prettier language, in his article) -

  1. With an eReader or a Reading Tablet there is always the temptation to check the news or play a game or surf the web or send an email.
  2. There is some difference between turning the pages of a book and getting the tactile sensation and the smell and the familiarity – versus using an eReader and the specific and very different experience it presents. Purely on the basis of the fact that we probably are in the habit of concentrating more (and going into a different state of mind) when reading a physical book, it’s quite possible that eReaders won’t present as pure a reading focus until we get used to them (which will be different for different readers).
  3. Absolutely anyone can publish an ebook. That means you get a lot of noise and a lot of people with some truly strange books and ideas influencing you.
  4. The quality control (both in terms of content and in terms of formatting and editing) is not as high.
  5. You can’t interact with the book in the form of taking notes like you could with a physical book. A little ‘1’ mark for a note hardly replaces the impact of something scribbled in the margins.
  6. It’s different – just the act of switching to a new way of getting and reading books takes some getting used to. Some people will never try or will quite before they become comfortable with this new way.
  7. The inability to easily skim and write in margins means ebooks are not suited for textbooks. Add on the lack of color in the current generation of eReaders and we really don’t have any ‘textbook readers’ at all. Amazon didn’t help matters by pushing the College Student Pilot Program using a Kindle that had no touch, no color, and just wasn’t adequate as a text-book reader.
  8. The user interface still needs work – it makes some things (such as highlighting) annoyingly slow.
  9. eBooks are accused of not providing as many visual cues i.e. structure, chapters, where in the book you are. It doesn’t help that everyone has their own interpretation of page numbers and whether or not to show them.

That’s a long list and it isn’t even complete. Nicholas Carr seems like a genius and his advice seems golden – We really shouldn’t rush to replace old tools with new ones before thinking things through.

However, what about the things that ebooks do better?

eBooks do a better job than Physical Books (on some fronts)

Here’s the part that Nicholas Carr’s editor cut out from his article.

  1. eBooks are making reading a lot more affordable – which means more people can read, and people can read more. Black Echo for $1 and Stephen King Novellas for $3 just wouldn’t be possible with physical books. Nor would indie author books at $1 and book deals at $1 and $2 (at least not to the same extent). It will, almost certainly, lead to more people reading, and people reading more. Perhaps most importantly, it makes books competitive with lots of other ways of passing the time.
  2. eBooks are making reading a lot more accessible. People who couldn’t read can read now –  Larger text and Text to Speech is opening up reading to a lot more people. Additionally, People can read now in places and at times when they couldn’t read earlier. You can read on your phone, on your PC, or on your eReader. As Jerry Lee Lewis would put it – Whole lotta reading going on.
  3. With the Democratization of Publishing we get a lot more ideas and diversity. While there is a lot of noise, there is also a lot more variety. We have replaced the filter of ‘high quality and what Publishers think people should read and what Publishers think will make money’ with ‘zero quality control and what any person in the world wants to send out and varying consideration of profits’. The lack of quality control is bad but the other two things are good – everyone gets a shot and lots of people who don’t care about money get a shot.
  4. Convenience – Books in 60 seconds and stores that are open 24/7. This also increases the amount of reading as the friction is reduced significantly. Books needed ebooks to be able to compete with instant on TV and Internet and Video Games.
  5. There is more available in your genre of choice. Let’s say that you have an unhealthy obsession with Post-Apocalyptic novels – Well, you can now choose from Publishers and Small Publishers and Indie Authors and your neighbourhood Baker. There’s less quality control but a lot more choice – plus you are free of the threat of everyone switching over to publishing Twilight clones for 16-year-old girls.
  6. eBooks are giving books a longer life. Whether we like to admit it or not, the truth is that $10 books sold in physical stores and published according to their profit potential were losing out to things like TV and YouTube. Now books are competitive again.

While rushing out to replace our old, trusted tools would be stupid, it would be equally stupid to keep using them if everything around us is changing and they just aren’t as effective.

The world is changing and books have to change too – If books don’t evolve they face the very real danger of dying out or becoming far less important.

Of course, there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

Things Left Unanswered

Well, here are a few -

  1. How do eBooks affect us? Do they affect us as much as physical books or more?
  2. What happens when Network effects start kicking in? What happens when unknown authors become bestsellers in the space of a few days?
  3. Will people read more now that ebooks are so accessible and cheap or will they read the same amount and just spend less on books?
  4. Will the quality control of books be gone forever? It’s hard to imagine Publishers being able to afford to run stringent quality control given the likely drop in ebook prices.
  5. Will the lack of sharing and resale have some permanent effect?
  6. Will we ever get an eReader that can handle textbooks? Perhaps it’s the students that are the problem – Do we really think we could ever make a device that would satisfy college students?
  7. If books become very accessible due to the rise of ebooks will people become too smart? Do we really want people who are capable of making the cognitive leap that they shouldn’t be funding Wall Street bonuses with their retirement savings?
  8. Will people get too influenced by each other? Will the gatekeeping of Publishers get reduced by the Court of Peer Pressure and Public Opinion?
  9. What happens in we end up with 2 major players in Books and things get even more controlled than when there were Publishers?

These are exciting times for anyone in Publishing. They are critical times for anyone who reads – a lot is going right and a lot could go wrong. It’s easy for Publishers to focus on the negatives and for us to focus on the positives. There are things happening that can’t be undone – not all are good, not all are bad, but most are irrevocable.

In a way, no one knows what will happen. Everyone is waiting for an opportunity to seize an advantage and take over the profits in books and everyone is uncertain of the direction in which things will move. This might be the best of times for books. This might be the worst of times for books. It might even be both – In fact, it probably is both.

Thoughts on Kindle Cloud Reader

It doesn’t work on IE and it doesn’t work on Firefox. It doesn’t work from the iPhone either and it doesn’t work from the Nook Color’s browser. So you’re leaving out nearly everyone who would be interested most.

Kindle Cloud Reader – a link in case you want to try it out.

It doesn’t work on my version of Safari on the PC. So this post will mostly talk about the role of Cloud Reader and what direction it might be taking Amazon in.

Firstly, it’s rather strange to introduce a product whose main sales pitch is ‘works from anywhere and from any device and works magically from your browser’ when it doesn’t work on IE (#1 browser worldwide unless you are skilled in statistics) or Firefox (#2 browser worldwide) or the iPhone.

Please Note: Kindle for Web did have this sales pitch and Cloud Reader is the first manifestation of Kindle for Web.

There are 500 sites and blogs covering the news about the Kindle Cloud Reader. What’s the point if 80% of the people won’t be able to even try Cloud Reader? What’s the point of mobilizing all this attention when the only browsers it works on are Chrome and Safari (and it doesn’t even work on iPhone’s Safari Browser)?

Most of the articles are either painfully positive or focused on ‘Does it look like an app? Does it meet my aesthetic bar for an app that makes me feel artistic and talented?’. A complete waste of imaginary print space.

The only one that actually had thought put in before being written is this one by Tim Carmody – Amazon’s Cloud Reader Still Doesn’t Take the Web Seriously. He writes -

 In Cloud Reader, you currently cannot:

  • Use an unsupported browser (that would be most of them).
  • Highlight text or write notes (you can read older notes).
  • Copy-and-paste text.
  • Share text or notes over social media like Twitter and Facebook (you can do this in the iOS Kindle app now).
  • Read or buy magazines or other periodicals (you can do this in the iOS Kindle app now, too).

There’s also a bigger point which Tim Carmody talks about (and this is the sort of stuff that hopefully more main stream blogs and newspapers start pondering) -

You can’t respond. All you can do is consume. You can read, but your reading generally cannot create value.

Basically, Cloud Reader is an Apple/Facebook type of dumbing-down approach i.e. it inadvertently puts readers into a ‘consumer/consumption focused’ role. Amazon probably didn’t mean it as such and this is just V1. However, that’s what Cloud Reader is (in its current form) – not so much ‘reading’ software as ‘book consumption’ software.

Perhaps that’s the future, perhaps that’s what the human race is going towards – a race that doesn’t want to share things with each other unless it’s an advertising link and doesn’t want to think or create. Just consume. Consume shiny, pretty things on shiny, pretty devices and let the triggers of consumption take over their/our lives.

At some point people will stop pretending that the latest device they bought is for some ‘reason’ and just admit they bought it for the buying of it. It was so shiny and it lets you buy other things. Perhaps that’s what it’s really all about – to buy things and to buy more things and fulfill the ultimate, most profitable role we could fulfill.

Is it inevitable that Kindle and/or the Kindle ecosystem goes in the direction of becoming a Consumer Device?

Kindle is, for the moment, a pretty honest reproduction of a book.

That’s what’s made it the darling of book lovers (or at least enough book lovers to scare Publishers into a rebound relationship with Apple).

However, the real money isn’t in catering to intelligent book readers. The real money is in catering to consumers – people who consume blindly. A reader who reads a book for the love of it is a dead-end. She’s going to read Stephen King and be happy and content from the book itself.

Wouldn’t a company prefer a consumer? One who buys the book and then buys other things and then buys books and kitchen sinks and vinyl records just for the thrill of buying. That’s the whole point of things like magazines and advertising driven content isn’t it?

To use content as an excuse to show people desire-creating ads and create a sadness, a gap that gnaws at your heart – one that can only be filled by consuming.

The real money is in people who will consume. So the smartest company will try to position itself to these people. And, sadly, the new Kindle Tablet might show that Amazon is indeed positioning itself to such people. The Cloud Reader already shows that – Why focus so much effort on making software for people who can’t even put down $139 for a dedicated reading device?

You know what would make me happy? If a company said – If you can’t even put down $139 for an eReader then you just aren’t worth our time. We only want the aficionados. We only want people who treasure books and reading.

There are already tons of companies catering to the people who don’t really have any great affinity to books. Perhaps readers want a company that’s focused on their needs and wishes and will stay focused on their needs and wishes. Perhaps they want a company that thinks – We can’t be the absolute best company for people who love books if we are also trying to optimize our reading software and devices for people who don’t love books.

How many existing Kindle owners want a Cloud Reader? Whatever happened to library book lending? Why not focus on that instead of some Cloud Reader that only works on Safari and Chrome?

Cloud Reader, as Tim Carmody points out, is a consumption oriented device.

This might simply be a function of it being a V1 release. However, it’s something that comes up again and again – Amazon’s ‘social’ features are all ‘book consumption’ features. They aren’t really social as they aren’t really person to person – they are person to book buying recommendation. Whether it’s popular highlights or tweeting passages from books – everything revolves around increasing awareness of the book and creating sales. Perhaps Cloud Reader is also a step in that direction.

There are a dozen things that would benefit Kindle owners more than a Cloud Reader. It’s understandable that Amazon wants to reach out to non-serious readers – but it shouldn’t be at the cost of serious readers.

Amazon is morphing into some hybrid of Google and Apple and Amazon when it comes to books. A Cloud Reader. A Tablet. No technological updates to the Kindle since last year. Few software updates.

It’s understandable – any company has to go where the profit is. It’s just unfortunate that at some point readers are going to get de-prioritized and ‘consumers’ are going to become the focus. At least, it seems that way.

Kindle Cloud Reader is just a sign that Amazon is forgetting where 80% of book sales come from. Perhaps it knows better than us and the long tail of book sales is more important than dedicated readers who buys lots and lots of books. Perhaps it feels it has already tied up the dedicated readers.

Whatever the motivator, it seems that Amazon cares more and more about people who value books less and less.

The Kindle Tablet and the new Kindle will be the surest signs of whether Amazon has lost its focus on reading and people who love books. If Kindle Tablet is very compelling and Kindle 4 is just a follow-the-leader type of device, then it’s time for Kindle owners to start worrying that something (Apple’s success with the iPad? The lure of getting the 60% who don’t read books?) has managed to corrupt Amazon’s focus on reading.

People’s champions vs Publishers’ champions

This post will cover three assumptions/pieces of conjecture -

  1. Sooner or later authors chosen by readers will outsell authors chosen by Publishers. To the tune of indie authors and new publisher authors having 75 or more out of the Top 100 books in the Kindle Store (currently it’s around 25). The corollary will be that 50 or more of the books in any honest bestseller list will be indie books (across ebook and physical book combined).
  2. Publishers are only picking indie authors who are doing well because they promise a higher chance than usual of profit. Publishers can not guarantee success – they just want to profit off of readers’ crowd intelligence and pick authors who have a slightly better chance of succeeding.
  3. You should stick to your core competency and to the environment that best suits you. Success in one environment is not a guarantee of success in another – it’s not even a good indicator. Publishers picking readers’ champions and enticing them with book deals are actually hurting these authors. Authors falling for the seductive overtures of Publishers are completely missing the 10,000 foot view and the long-term view.

Hopefully this post gets a ton of authors upset and they write posts about how Publishers are far more important and powerful than readers. It would be great to have a list of authors who chose Publishers over readers. When eReaders and eBooks have completely taken over (by end 2013 to mid 2014) we can look back at this list and get some solid figures on whether choosing Publishers over Readers was a good decision in mid 2011.

People’s Champions will beat the Publishers’ Champions

This is the part almost every author is missing.

Publishers are Publisher-Gods and Publisher-Kings no more. That disconnect – where authors thought Publishers were the ones paying them, and where readers thought Publishers knew what was good for them – is gone.

Now it’s clear to readers (even if it isn’t yet clear to most authors) that readers are buying books. Not Publishers, not retailers, not distributors. It’s you and me who are keeping this industry going.

Now it’s clear to readers that Publishers are just throwing darts. That they are no better at deciding what’s worth reading than a reader himself. Readers are realizing that the best way to find the books they want to read, and at good prices, is to band together and ferret out the best books (from both published and unpublished authors).

Authors have to make a choice

One author says – He is a Publisher’s Champion. Publishers will take him to the bookstores and promote him and turn him from an unknown into a Stephen King (or a James Patterson for those who value money a little more).

Another author says – She is a People’s Champion. That she can make more per book while readers have to pay less per book. That readers are the best judge because it is them she writes for.

All along, right up to 2011, the first author has always won out. The second author has had nowhere to go. The first author got prestige and reputation and in some cases even money. The second author – She struggled to even get her book into stores.

The times they are a-changing.

Now, the second author can use the Kindle Store and the Nook Store and the Internet and can reach owners directly. She can sell ebooks and compete on price. She can sell ebooks to eReader owners and compete on reading experience.

At first, it seems she has a fair chance. However, it becomes more than fair when you realize that readers are very intelligent people. They instinctively know when an author is pro-reader. They also realize when an author cares only about Publishers and money – Why ask readers to buy $8 and $10 books when the author could easily offer the same books for $3 or even $1?

That’s the part authors are missing – Readers are your real customers and offering them a better deal increases your chances of success.

By End 2013, Big 6 Authors will have less than 25% of the charts

Currently, indie authors have 25 books in the Kindle Store Top 100. The official bestseller charts try their best to ignore indie authors so let’s not even go there.

By End 2013, the people will have flexed their muscles. Indie authors and pro-reader authors (author represented by the new breed of Publishers like Open Road and Rosetta Books and Amazon Encore) will own 75% or more of the charts. They will also own 50% or more of the combined charts (ebooks and physical books).

Authors that choose the Big 6 and anti-reader initiatives like the Agency Model will pay a very heavy price.

Publishers are only picking successful indie authors to increase their probability of getting a hit

Let’s say you’re an indie author. You write a good book, offer it out for $1 at all the ebook stores, drive a grass-roots campaign, and manage to get a lot of buzz and sales.

You start making a decent amount of money.

This is where you have to make hard decisions. You’ve done all the work. Now is your time to write more books and cash in. Except Publishers come in and sweet-talk you about how you’re going to be the next James Patterson.

What do you do?

What Publishers say -

Look how well your book has done.
Our in-house fortune-teller says you are the next Stephen King.

She gazes into the crystal ball and sees you as the one.
Sign a deal with us – do the right thing.

We’ll get you fame and fortune – it’s an opportunity that’s second to none.
Plus we’ll guarantee you a hit every time you step into the ring.

What Publishers really mean -

Minimize our risk we must.
Your book is likelier to succeed than go bust.
In us you should trust.

Let us invoke your money-lust.
Even if for readers the price is unjust.
Readers can wait for the buttered portion while they nibble on the crust.

That was pretty unnecessary. Publishers aren’t really that evil – they are just fattened middle-men who get a larger share than they deserve.

Publishers see an indie author doing well and they think he has a higher chance of being a success. Publishers see a writer chosen by readers and they see potential profit. Publishers think readers who picked that author should be rewarded with higher book prices and 1 year waits.

If the indie author is already doing well, then the Publisher obviously isn’t picking the indie author to develop talent or make him a success. It’s for profit. That means someone has to pay the extra profit that the Publisher hopes to make. Who better than readers who did all the work to recognize the talent?

Readers who are now invested in the author because they helped discover him.

Fundamentally, Publishers are taking the indie author out of the environment he succeeded in. They are changing all the factors that made him a success.

Stick to your Core Competency and to an Environment where you have Competitive Advantages

Publishers signing Indie Authors are generally doing them a disservice. Here are a few reasons why -

  1. The price always goes up. How do we know an indie author who succeeded with $1 can succeed with $10?
  2. The author might be suited to early adopter markets. Kindle and Nook owners are probably more enthusiastic than most readers about new authors and perhaps even more forgiving. How do we know that people buying books at Random Grocery Store X will give an indie author a chance?
  3. An author might have something that clicks for them – a personal story, the way they interact online, a website, a blog. Most of those things don’t translate to the real world.
  4. Publishers are notoriously bad at ‘making authors succeed’. Only one or two out of 10 published books do very well. Are you increasing your chances of success by signing with a Publisher or decreasing them?
  5. Publishers promise more than they deliver. A Publisher’s marketing isn’t going to be 10 times better than yours – it might even be worse. Yet, if you’re not careful you’ll get complacent and start thinking you can leave all the marketing to them.

There are lots of other factors too -

  1. How can a Publisher with 1,000 authors give enough attention to an individual author?
  2. Isn’t the ebook market comparatively far easier for an indie author to understand and work in?
  3. Aren’t traditional publishers at a huge disadvantage in the new world of Publishing? Is their advantage with physical books offset by their disadvantages in ebooks?
  4. Can an indie author afford to make readers wait for 12 months for their next book?
  5. What about time and number of books? Is one book every 18 months from a Publisher worth more than one book every 6 months from their indie imprint?

Indie authors who are doing well enough to be in the Top 100 in the Kindle Store (or to be within shooting distance) should seriously consider what it would mean to leave an environment they know, and have found success in, to become one out of 10,000 authors a large Publisher is publishing.

As an indie author they have readers hugely invested in their success. As a published author it might not be the same. As an indie author readers are very patient with them. How much patience would there be if their book was $8 and had the stamp of a Big 6 Publisher?

Authors need to be painfully aware that to Publishers they are just a bet – a bet with a higher chance of paying off, a bet that Publishers have to spend less on, a bet that can be deprioritized if a better option comes along.

Publishers are taking thoroughbreds born to race freely and putting them to work pulling a loaded cart – a cart loaded with Publishers’ overheads, their insights from a different era, and their reluctance to treat customers fairly.

For all we know, Publishers might be taking guaranteed hit authors and turning them into failures.

Readers and Publishers are at war and there can only be one winner

Let’s be absolutely clear about what’s at stake here -

  1. Old Publishing: Publishers had all the power – they decided which author got published, they decided which books readers got to read. Books were $10 to $20. It was a world ruled by the Publisher-Kings.
  2. New Publishing: Readers have all the power – they decide which author wins, they decide which Publisher survives. Books are falling towards the $1 to $5 range. It’s a world where readers have more power than they could dream of (and more power than they realize).

If readers win, Publishers would have to give up – power of choosing authors, power of choosing books, control, high-price books, decent profit margins. If readers win, Publishers would face the threat of – extinction, losing all power and becoming service-providers, a new environment they aren’t suited for, fierce new competitors, powerful platforms.

It’s the equivalent of taking the Kings of Medieval Europe and forcing them to bake bread and sell loaves of bread to the filthy peasants they used to rule over. Can you blame Publishers if some of them seem to prefer death?

The Big 6 Publisher as exists today can only survive in a world where Publisher-Kings rule.

Can you imagine a Publisher which used to decide what entire nations would read adapting itself into a service provider which asks readers what they would like to read?

It’s hard for me to imagine that scenario. You can take the Publisher-King out of his Castle but you can’t take the ‘God-given-right to decide everything’ attitude out of him.

In the end, the revolution is either going to be crushed brutally or it is going to result in a bloody mess – a mess that includes a lot of critical Publisher body parts. Given that we have eReaders, Platforms, indie authors, intelligent readers, and the Internet – it’s rather unlikely that Publishers will be able to crush the spirit of readers.

We are in the death-throes of the old Publishing industry. Authors who want to hedge their bets are welcome to. However, any author who turns his back on readers, who makes readers wait a year to get decently priced books, who makes readers pay more for ebooks than the paperback price, who trumpets how much more important Publishers are – Well, that author can look forward to some real character-building experiences once the revolution has run its course.

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