This post will cover three assumptions/pieces of conjecture -
- 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).
- 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.
- 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books they want to read, and at good prices, is to band together and ferret out the best books (from both published and unpublished authors).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 -
- The price always goes up. How do we know an indie author who succeeded with $1 can succeed with $10?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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 -
- How can a Publisher with 1,000 authors give enough attention to an individual author?
- Isn’t the ebook market comparatively far easier for an indie author to understand and work in?
- 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?
- Can an indie author afford to make readers wait for 12 months for their next book?
- 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 -
- 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.
- 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.
Filed under: kindle, publishing | Tagged: future of publishing, future of reading, reading revolution | 13 Comments »