Sunday, July 17, 2011

One More Nail in the Coffin

Well, I took my first vacation in years, and now I'm back.

Actually, it wasn't all vacation time. Blake Crouch and I spent a week in a cabin writing STIRRED. But the week after I actually spent time with my family, and was pleased to find out some of them even remembered who I was.

During my absence, two interesting things happened.

1. My Amazon-published ebook SHAKEN hit the Top 100 again on the Kindle bestseller list. I can only attribute this to some promo Amazon did, since I was off the grid and not doing anything.

2. It looks like Borders is going to liquidate.

This quickly tells me two things that I suspected all along. First, that signing a publishing deal with Amazon is a good thing. Who ever heard of a publisher doing a marketing push nine months after the book came out?

As I'm fond of saying, ebooks are forever, and Amazon is happy to support a backlist that lasts for infinity.

Second, if Borders goes bye-bye, the death spiral I predicted is right on course.

Here's something I said in that blog post:

If the majority of bookstores close, the print midlist will probably disappear. Bestsellers will still be sold in big boxes and non-bookstore outlets, but if a book isn't a blockbuster, it likely won't be released in print.

Now, we can debate the health of indie bookstores, and the two remaining chains, B&N and Books-A-Million, but pretty much every account I've read says that print sales are down and ebook sales are up. I'm confident the end result is the Big 6 publishing fewer books in print, which means fewer print sales, which is bad for the publisher/bookseller bottom line.

Will ebook sales be able to save bookstores and publishers?

Not if authors continue to wise up and tell the Big 6 to take their 17.5% ebook royalties and choke on them.

Even if you are an optimist, it's tough to argue against three obvious points.

1. Print sales are falling.

2. Ebook sales are rising.

3. 70% royalty is more than 17.5% royalty.

The obvious and eventual conclusion to draw is that authors are going to continue to abandon the Big 6, except for a few bestselling names who will continue to move print through non-bookstore outlets.

The infrastructure as it exists cannot survive without the midlist, and the midlist is going the way of the dodo.

This will mean fewer books printed, fewer books sold, and fewer choices for readers until they're forced to buy an ereading device if they want to read anything other than Stephen King and James Patterson.

While on vacation, I took two Kindles. But my 13 year old son also wanted to read, and was using his iPhone Kindle app. After being stuck tethered to an outlet (the iPhone doesn't have the longest battery life) I went to Staples about bought one of those new ad-supported Kindles for him, for the measly price of $114. I got this version not because I'm cheap, but because I wanted to see how the "special offers" and "sponsored screen saver" works.

(Joe to Amazon: Let me get into this program and buy ads for my ebooks. I will pay you a lot of money to do so.)

My point? Kindles have dropped in price to the point where they've become disposable, like cell phones and laptops and digital cameras. Ever notice that you buy a new cell (or computer, or camera) every few years, even if your old one still works?

It's because new technology costs so little, and we've become conditioned to upgrading and replacing. Why repair a phone, or TV, or monitor, or printer, or any other piece of tech, when it is cheap and simple to buy a new one? Why stick with an outdated piece of tech when you can get the latest, improved model for less money than you paid for the previous version?

Why buy four hardcovers when you can get an ereader for the same price?

I have no doubt that by the end of the year, there will be many ereaders under the magic $99 price point. They're already showing up in department stores and drug stores, along with bookstores, office supply stores, and electronics stores. Google is releasing a new ereading device. This is the future, and it will become widely adopted, and everyone knows it. Soon, readers won't even have a choice.

Everyone, except the booksellers who refuse to sell ebooks (or Amazon-published books), the Big 6 who continue to fleece authors and customers with low royalties and high ebook prices, and an ever-shrinking group of authors with Stockholm Syndrome who remain tied to the old ways.

I know I keep beating this drum, but unfortunately I'm forced to because even though this is old news for my regular blog readers, it continues to be new news for hundreds of authors on a daily basis. While on vacation I was bombarded with thank-you emails from authors who are either giving self-publishing a try, or have self-pubbed and sold a lot of ebooks. I even got a call from a notable author, asking specific questions about how to get started.

This message needs to be repeated, over and over and over, because there are still thousands of authors who spend their hard-earned $$$ on conventions that supposedly teach them how to write killer query letters.

Ack. That's so 2009. So is crossing your fingers, hoping your publisher is smart enough to buy the next book in your series when all the other books have made money. Hint: your publisher isn't smart enough.

So here is my advice:

To booksellers: Read my blog entry about surviving in this new publishing climate. You need to start working with authors and selling self-pub.

To publishers: Lower your ebook prices and raise your ebook royalties, or you're over.

To writers: Don't take any publishing deal for less than life-changing money, and make sure you get that money upfront. Otherwise, self-publish. Or sign with Amazon.

Yes, I know this horse is dead. But I have to keep beating it until everyone hears the message.

And to those folks who think that other bookstores will fill the void left by Borders, and the status quo will remain intact, I admire your optimism.

I also have some junk bonds I'd be happy to sell you.

148 comments:

Lovelyn said...

About a year ago I knew hardly anyone who had an ereader. Now most people I know have one. Ebook aren't going anywhere. Writers need to take advantage of the situation.

Keep right on beating that horse! Everyone needs to get the message. We're at the dawn of a new age.

TK Kenyon said...

That dead-horse-beating still sounds like war drums to me, Joe, and a lot of other people, too. I'm just glad that I've finally joined the winning side.

Thank you for that, Joe. Between you, Barry, Dean, Kris, and Kindleboards, I'm a convert.

TK Kenyon

You can receive relevant, helpful writing prompts daily by liking on Facebook: Dr. Kenyon’s Writing Apple or by subscribing to the RSS/Atom feed at Blog: Dr. Kenyon’s Writing Apple Blogspot . Twitter announcements of blog posts at @TKKenyon on Twitter .

Anonymous said...

What's a vacation?

Ruth Harris said...

Border's? What's that?
Mid-list? What's that?
Query letter? What's that?
17.5%? Really?
Junk bonds? Huh?

Right on, Joe. As usual.

Karen Woodward said...

Welcome back Joe, glad you had a chance to relax and spend some time with your family. Grats on Shaken doing so well.

Another great blog post.

Elizabeth Ann West said...

Glad you got in a vacation. What's the point of being a best-selling independent author if you can't enjoy life? :)

Keep beating the war drums. People are listening.

Jude Hardin said...

To writers: Don't take any publishing deal for less than life-changing money, and make sure you get that money upfront. Otherwise, self-publish. Or sign with Amazon.

How about a moderate advance and 50/50 on ebooks? That would be something to think about.

Cool that you took some vacation time, and I want to hear about what it was like spending a week in a cabin with another author did you write in separate rooms and then get together for discussions, or how exactly did that process work?

Joe Konrath said...

What's a vacation?

It's where you go out of state with your family and only check your email six times a day.

Joe Konrath said...

How about a moderate advance and 50/50 on ebooks?

That depends. If the 50/50 meant I was in charge of pricing, then maybe.

But the Big 6 will fall on their swords before they let authors dictate pricing.

wannabuy said...

I haven't had a week go by where someone I know didn't buy an ereader since OCTOBER of last year!

The 'economy of scale' of print is falling apart. MMPB just doesn't have a chance... :( So all of those serial fiction readers, who tend to be intense readers, will buy ereaders. Thus they will buy the other genres they read in ebook form. i.e., I read quite a bit of history and economics in addition to my sci-fi.

Textbooks will go quickly to ebooks too... That will really open the floodgates.

Its not wardrums. The dam has broken and Joe is just trying to warn authors to get out of the downstream lowlands.

Neil

Donna K. Weaver said...

I've been hearing so much about this. I'm kinda old to be starting this writing thing, and I've worried that I won't live long enough to publish traditionally. Self Pub is looking better and better to me, since I'm more in this to be read than to make bank. Making bank would just be frosting on the cake.

"This message needs to be repeated, over and over and over, because there are still thousands of authors who spend their hard-earned $$$ on conventions that supposedly teach them how to write killer query letters."

Wow.

Darley said...

Ebooks and print will coexist for long time. There's a generation (or more) who still like print books, just like I like my CDs. An author obviously needs to offer both if they can.

As for new authors, they want to be published. Like me, they'll do it any way they can. There's no reason not to self-publish right now if you do it right. But I feel like we're in the Dark Ages with this shift in how content of all sorts is being delivered to us. It looks like Amazon is doing it best, but that's another discussion.

Andy Hough said...

I used to think that I would never buy an ereader. That has changed this year. After downloading a Kindle app for my phone I now do most of my reading on the phone. That has obvious drawbacks so I will be buying an ereader soon. I'm sure there are still plenty more people like me who are slow to adapt the latest technology so there is lots of room for the market to grow.

kathleen shoop said...

Thanks for the update, Joe! Glad your vacation was great and that even when away, your mind never stops!

I do appreciate your guidance through the blog. I'm sure my sales are very much due to what I've read/learned here. Thanks also for MJ's post--her marketing input has been great for me also. How fortunate for me that you two are so generous with what you know.

josephrobertlewis said...

Wilbur! Wilbur, please! Your old buddy Mr Ed can't take anymore beating! Please, all I ask is a traditional viking horse burial at sea...

Moses Siregar III said...

What's a vacation?

It's where you go out of state with your family and only check your email six times a day.


LOL. Too true.

Michael said...

The horse might be dead, but it can still take some more beating.

There are a lot of people out there that still haven't picked up on how everything is changing.

Plus, it's encouraging for those of us on the verge of jumping into self-publishing. Every little anecdote and statistic helps motivate new writers.

Madison Johns said...

If you go into Barnes and Nobel the first thing you see is a huge display of Nook's. If this blog has taught me anything it's to demand more than publishers are willing to pay.

MGalloway said...

I still think somebody should come up with a POD machine that can be set up in grocery store or a rest stop (like a Redbox machine...but call it a PODBox).

The machine would then print paperback books on demand and be connected to some large online retailer (Amazon?). If it would allow you to download items to your Kindle in remote locations, that would be even better.

Lottie said...

I have a question.

I can understand how an established name could make more money with self-publishing an ebook, but if you're an unknown and get a sweetheart deal from a major house (high 6 figures with guaranteed heavy promotion), isn't it better for you to go with the traditional model and establish your brand?

Of course, this would be an exceptional instance, but it happens occasionally. So, hypothetically speaking, what do you think?

LV Cabbie said...

Well, maybe _some_ bookstores will close. But, there is an outlet for books that far too many people overlook - the Naval Exchange Service and the Army, Air Force Exchange Service!
Having been there, military personnel are avid readers. I'm certain more and more are getting e-readers but every time I go to the AAFES store at Nellis AFB, there are always people browsing and buying books and magazines.
The trick will be figuring out how to address that audience.

Stella Baker said...

I've been writing for seven years and I've been a librarian for a lot longer. As recently as a year ago I felt the only book worth reading was one with pages I could turn. And then I bought a Sony eReader, for practical reasons, and fell in love, to my great surprise. Later, I bought a Kindle too, because I just had to have an affair. Now I love them both and my roaming eye has been hovering over the new color NOOK. If I could become a flaming eBook convert, a lot of reluctant people will surprise themselves when they take the leap and try eBooks.

As a librarian, I saw a lot of self-pubbed print books and most of them were pretty bad. [I mean no disrespect. That was my experience.] That, and my comfort--as a librarian--with trad publishing convinced me that I'd self-publish when hell froze over. So much for global warming. The eBook explosion has changed all that,including me. Last month I published on Kindle and B&N. Paperback out soon. I'm not a millionaire; I guess I have to give it another month. ;-) Seriously, I am taking responsibility for my own future and, while scary, it feels right.

Mike Dennis said...

Great nod to the futility of the query letter, Joe.

I've always wondered what percentage of New York-published novelists acquired their first agent through a cold query letter (NOT aided by insider contacts). I bet it would struggle to exceed 5%.

SBJones said...

Thanks for the update Joe. The only sad thing I see is that this will be the death of public libraries. Once eReaders are the norm, it will be as simple as logging on to the National Library and click the lend me button next to the tiles you want and download them with a 1-2 week expiration date all for the cost of a netflix sub.

Isabella Amaris said...

Good to see you back, Joe, drums and all!:)

Hmmmm, I was sad to read about Borders going into liquidation... I guess it's all a matter of who chooses to stay ahead in the great game of publishing.

But I'm really hoping bookstores will survive somehow, even the big, big ones. What can I say... I love print books:) And I love bookstores:)

All this while also loving the ebook revolution ha:)

@McGalloway - That is a really cool idea! I'm sure someone will make such a POD machine in the future. In fact, I dunno - are there places with machines like this already? Hmmm, time for some Googling...

S Alini said...

The ebook revolution is spreading, to include children's books. Each day I see sales. It's a wonderful feeling. I'm so grateful to the technology creators who have brought us to this point. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
S Alini
The Strange Journal of the Boy Henry
alinibooks.blogspot.com

JL Bryan said...

"if you're an unknown and get a sweetheart deal from a major house (high 6 figures with guaranteed heavy promotion), isn't it better for you to go with the traditional model and establish your brand?"

This is extremely hard to get as an unknown--if they publish you at all, you'll like get a four-figure or low five-figure advance.

Increasingly, self-publishing seems like the road to a good publishing deal, if that's what you want--look at Amanda Hocking, H.P. Mallory, Michael Sullivan, etc. None of them would have gotten a great deal with a publisher if they hadn't self-pubbed first.

Corporations are risk-averse. They'll increasingly look to sign authors with established readerships and sales records, and be much less likely to invest a lot of money in unknown writers.

J. Viser said...

The only way a Big 6 publisher will change is if (a) its leadership suddenly comes to an epiphany or (b) is changed.

The former is unlikely, and the latter if it did occur would most likely happen too late to make a difference.

The Big 6 are caught on the wrong side of the kind of market change that happens once in a generation. I am not so sure that even the demise of Borders will be sufficient to scare them into change.

The people who really can force the Big 6 to change are the shareholders. If the shareholders decide that the management team is not doing what is in their best interests (i.e., making a profit because they are losing to ebooks), then hopefully they will have the insight to replace management.

The problem with that scenario is that all the Big 6 are privately owned. Without transparency of financial statements, there is less pressure (if any) to make fundamental change.

So, Joe, it looks like your assessment is right. If the Big 6 can't find it within themselves to adapt to the market, then the paradigm truly has shifted. And, we'll see fewer books published.

Gary Jonas said...

Joe - great post. I think you nailed this one.

Isabella--There is the Book Machine

http://www.bookmachine.com/

I think they're too expensive for most bookstores to afford and beyond that I think that e-books will render them obsolete in a few years anyway.


We'll see what happens with publishers. There are some incredibly smart people working there and they are not unaware of the e-book explosion. I suspect they're trying to find a way to adapt that won't cripple them as they make the transition to the new world model. Time will tell.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

(Joe to Amazon: Let me get into this program and buy ads for my ebooks. I will pay you a lot of money to do so.)

And there goes the equality of shelf space in a virtual environment. All books will not be competing on equal footing. Those who can buy the most ads on Kindle Daily or on the Kindle proper or get in Amazon-pushed newsletters, etc., etc. will be the ones to succeed. Bestsellers can be bought, just as they can be bought by traditional publishers. S/he who has the most money wins.

I'm an advocate of self-pubbing. I have two books out. The circus, though, has been in watching authors trying to game the system. And now they'll be trying to buy the system. The bestseller lists of the future will go to those who can outscream, outmarket, outmaneuver and outbuy everyone else. The average person wants to feel part of the crowd, like they're doing what everyone else is doing. They don't want to take risks. That's where and why advertising succeeds.

In the future, I see, as now, there will be the outlier books -- those sleepers -- that unexpectedly rise to the top and have everyone talking. But the majority of books will be groomed -- just as bestsellers are today -- to be there.

It's neither right nor wrong. It just is.

wannabuy said...

@Darly:"Ebooks and print will coexist for long time. There's a generation (or more) who still like print books, just like I like my CDs. "

About two thirds of those I know adopting ereaders are doing so without choice; elder eyesight is forcing the issue.

There are only two age groups that read huge quantities: Young and Old. The youth will adopt technology and the elder will have no choice. The mid-age groups are reading more: they're sneaking reads on their smartphones and finishing up the books on their synced e-readers.

Doubt me? Go to your local library and strike up a conversation on large type books. You'll get an earful and it doesn't put the big6 in a pretty light... The lack of large type books turns avid print fans to ebook fans about a year after they require large type...


Neil

Joe Konrath said...

Ebooks and print will coexist for long time. There's a generation (or more) who still like print books, just like I like my CDs.

CDs still exists because they can be ripped to mp3, flac, ogg vorbis, shn, and other formats.

In other words, a CD is just a physical digital product that can be used on various devices.

A paper book cannot. Digital files ALWAYS win out over analogue.

if you're an unknown and get a sweetheart deal from a major house (high 6 figures with guaranteed heavy promotion), isn't it better for you to go with the traditional model and establish your brand?

If you can get life-changing money upfront, go for it. Just realize you'll never get those rights back. Over the course of ten years, or a lifetime, you might find you sold yourself short.

The only sad thing I see is that this will be the death of public libraries.

If library attendance drops because of online downloading, watch how libraries begin to make you come to the library in order to download.

Those who can buy the most ads on Kindle Daily or on the Kindle proper or get in Amazon-pushed newsletters, etc., etc. will be the ones to succeed.

That's analogue thinking. Those who can buy shelf space will sell more, but not at the expense of anyone else.

We're about to enter the age of the microniche ebook. All of us can find 10,000 hardcore fans, with or without advertising.

Mystery Dawg said...

Hey Joe,

You won't have to wait too long. According to Kindle Nation Weekender Newsletter:
Amazon announced earlier today that its KINDEAL 3G - the 3G+wi-fi Kindle with special offers, is now available for $139 due to sponsorship or subsidy by AT&T. As Amazon attempts to clear out existing inventory prior to the launch the aforementioned new devices, we expect to see a base-model wi-fi Kindle offering at $99 for the first time in time for the back-to-school market in late August or September.

Now, that is great news!
Aldo

Ellen Fisher said...

"if you're an unknown and get a sweetheart deal from a major house (high 6 figures with guaranteed heavy promotion), isn't it better for you to go with the traditional model and establish your brand?"

I agree with JL on this one. If I were just starting out, and by some miracle a Big 6 publisher offered me a high-six-figures deal, I'd take it. But how often do you think that happens? Very, very rarely.

If you want to submit to major publishers and agents, then you need to resign yourself to a year or more spent submitting. Mostly likely you won't sell at all, and if you do, you'll probably get a four- or low five-figure advance.

There are exceptions, of course, but they are RARE. So are the exceptions that earn in the high six figures from self-publishing. The best way to look at it, IMHO, is to observe how "ordinary" writers are doing.

I.J.Parker said...

I am absolutely convinced you're right, Joe, and I'm following through as much as I can, though I'm still cautious on some of my books and let my agents handle both print deals and electronic versions.
Then I had this sudden moment of worry today. One's descendants tend to look back fondly at the ancestor who wrote books, perhaps more fondly and with greater pride than anyone did in the author's lifetime. Mine will probably keep my books on their shelves. Now, e-books are ephemeral things. How long is forever in cyber space? Google forgets pretty quickly and Amazon is full of out-of-print listings. How are future generations going to show electronic works off to their friends? Will only people like Brown and Patterson survive into the future?
Never mind. Apres moi . . . etc. :)

Unknown said...

From everything I've seen, the Big 6 are trying to hunker down and ride out the storm, in the hopes that everything will return to the way it used to be. They don't seem to understand that technology and culture are evolving, and that this isn't some fad that's going to go away. Thanks for telling it like it is, Joe.

H C Pucket said...

Ah, yes. Another great post. How about another post updating us on your sales, Joe? Always very encouraging. You know we live vicariously through you.
Lady at the Club

wannabuy said...

@Mystery Dawg:"we expect to see a base-model wi-fi Kindle offering at $99 for the first time in time for the back-to-school market in late August or September."

I just blogged how digitimes leaked that Foxconn is gearing up to build 14 million Kindles in addition to the tablets:

http://ebookcomments.blogspot.com/

If there is a $99 touchscreen, Amazon will sell out. :)

The market will continue changing.

I also notice Apple hasn't cut off Amazon from the iPad (due to app guideline violation). I wonder if Apple could afford to push customers to Android. (Of course, we could debate for years how many people that would impact.)

Neil

J Randall said...

Joe, about time you finally went on vacation with your family. Good on you and the family.

Adam Pepper said...

You are preaching to the choir, Joe. But a ton of folks out there clearly dont get it.

Hope you enjoyed your family time. You deserve it.

tmsouders.com said...

Love this post. And you comments about writing a query letter being so 2009, made me laugh hysterically. This made me feel good since I just released my first ebook and one of my favorite pastimes is doubting my decisions.

Sarah Woodbury said...

I'm sure I am one of a long line of writers who can say that this blog changed my life.

So thanks!

Alain Gomez said...

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that dead-tree publishing won't be entirely flushed by ebooks. Economics moves in pretty much the same fashion regardless of what product. What we're seeing right now is the breaking apart of "big business" and a focus on "the little guy." Eventually one of those little guys will become a big business and the cycle will start all over.

Mary Anne Graham said...

Joe: Thought I would share a comment from Laura Dawson of Firebrand. BTW, she's on Twitter @ljndawson; Her blog is http://www.ljndawson.com/

Laura says: "The new Big Six (Apple, Amazon, BN, Sony, Kobo, Google) are very very different from traditional book retailers. In fact, of the six, only one is also a traditional book retailer – and runs its ebook business separately and with different goals."

Laura's post reminded me of your various blog posts. It's worth a read. And her comment about the New Big 6 is worth remembering.

Eileen Cruz Coleman said...

Joe,

I simply adore you!

You inspired me to take the Kindle plunge!

Christopher John Chater said...

About six months ago I posted on the Writers of the Future forum that Epublishing was the way to go, the future was now. I was slammed, even by one of the winners. Now, many of the WOTF judges are self pubbing, Dave Farland, Kris Rusch, David Wesley Smith. Hopefully, now the Writers of the Future are up to date.

frankpalardy said...
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frankpalardy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CCC said...

My question for anybody: If I can use my Kindle and check out all of Joe's books from the library for free, how does he make any money? I buy hardcover books when they're not available at the library or the wait-time is two-months; and I don't mind buying them because then I own an actual hardcover book that feels good to have and to hold. If all Joe's books were available via Kindle at my local library for free, I wouldn't buy them from Amazon anymore. I'd wait for them all to get into the library e-book trough. That list of "purchased" books on my Kindle Home Page just isn't the same as the line of hardbacks in my bookcase. So, if each and every e-book is available for free ... anyway, back to my question: how will authors and publishers make any money from library lending?

wannabuy said...

@Alain:"What we're seeing right now is the breaking apart of "big business" and a focus on "the little guy." Eventually one of those little guys will become a big business and the cycle will start all over."

We're just getting rid of one or two layers. There will be big companies at the top of the pyramid: Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords, Sony, Google, etc.

The 'big business' of agents, publishers, etc.? That will either go to small business or be absorbed by the large vendors. Books are definitively not going on the same path as music. With music you had one company (Apple) in charge who gave the music labels preferential treatment to launch iTunes. Amazon hasn't done that. They did the opposite as the big publishers have fought too hard to slow ebook sales.

Neil

Anonymous said...

We're about to enter the age of the microniche ebook. All of us can find 10,000 hardcore fans, with or without advertising

This is an optimistic statement, Joe, but is it credible?
All of us find 10,000 hardcore ebooks? I mean, really?

A few self pubbed enovelists are doing really well, but by all accounts most clear less than thousand a year.

How will the industry change so that my prospective 10000 find me, or vice versa, when this isn't happening right now? Or will this be 10000 over my lifetime?

All the novels are currently funneled through a handful of amazon/smashword sites. Most novels disappear amongst the masses. How is that going to change so that the masses of self-publishers find their 10000 hardcore fans? A lot more niche categories from Amazon?

Phoenix Sullivan said...

That's analogue thinking. Those who can buy shelf space will sell more, but not at the expense of anyone else.

I respectfully differ, Joe. Virtual stores today (Amazon, especially) are set up to funnel patrons toward bestsellers and top-rated books. The virtual stores use the same psychology and practices to design the way their stores are set up as the analog versions do to guide the patron's experience. To get to a newbie's book, a buyer has to know the title or author to begin with. If they don't, the browsing experience is rife with all sorts of obstacles to being found. There's the flashy landing page trying to draw their attention. There are the bestseller lists, the hot new releases lists, the top-rated lists.

If a patron can avoid being distracted by these pages that make finding something to read easy, then they may well click on the genre the newbie's book is in and find there are 8000 titles there. Newbie, not having sold much yet, may be represented around item 4000, which is 200 page clicks in. Not too many patrons have the time or the will to click through everything, and likely something will find their fancy before they get 20 clicks in.

A newbie book won't be in any associated "Also bought" lists on competing product pages. Sure, everyone has a chance to be a bestseller (or even to sell) -- just like everyone has a chance to be president. It's democracy with a catch.

Those who sell more are more visible. Those who are more visible sell more. Those who can buy more visibility -- especially at the point of purchase -- will gobble up sales at the expense of books that are struggling to get noticed. That's simple economics -- nothing to do with whether the economic model is analog or virtual. Why do the #1 products continue to advertise? Because they want to continue to dominate the market -- to make sure the buyer doesn't even think about purchasing something else. Amazon puts everything on its shelves -- but it actively pushes sales of targeted books at the expense of other books. Yes, patrons CAN buy these other books -- if they can find the dark corner where they're stacked, on the floor, under a table of books that are being pushed.

If the digital playing field were truly level, I would agree with you. But it's not. And it's getting more unlevel every day. Especially when the stores the newbie wants to sell in are pushing their own "store brands." If there wasn't an "expense" to be paid by others, why on earth would Amazon feel it beneficial to start their own imprints? Surely a passive model would be more lucrative.

But you said it yourself: Shaken hit the Top 100 not because of any promo YOU did, but because of promo Amazon did. A lot of someones coming to the store with a budget bought your book because Amazon pushed them toward it at the expense of their buying another book with the dollars in their wallet.

frankpalardy said...

I'll miss Borders, but this is much bigger than the book format. If you look at the history of various media the format can shift the whole culture.

When tv was invented the number of movie goers plunged. It probably hit short story writers too. Rock music became not only popular but taken seriously when albums took hold. For someone my age writing was seen as like the buggy whip. Music and movies were everything. Now the rock album is dead and the economics of movies might be doomed as well. Books don't cost anything to write and you can do it while you have another job, so piracy is not going to kill you.

I went to film school and wrote screenplays. I thought about writing a book back then but what was being published didn't impress me. I didn't know if the system was broken or if people liked reading boring nonsense. Now writing novels makes much more sense. Even if most of these novels are crap those writers will also read more (as Joe figured out).

In recent years the tech industry itself has drawn in much of the attention. Ereaders didn't catch on because of writers but because of the millions of people who buy all the new gadgets. There's millions of young people who learn programming and write free software because of the energy in that area. It's like Hollywood. It can be disgusting, but it's what humanity and civilization is all about. There hasn't been that type of energy in writing since the 1950's.

Anonymous said...

You'll buy kindle ads? Hey, many of us would like to buy ads at the tail of your enovels, Joe. That's one way to get yourself noticed - catch the tail of the successful author - by having them put a sample of your newbie novel there.

Michelle Muto said...

Glad you had a great vacation, Joe.

Keep shouting it from the rooftops. I'm glad that I finally listened to you. I'm making money today on a book that would have yet to hit the shelves.

Melissa Douthit said...

Hi Joe,

You're not beating a dead horse. The horse is alive but just won't budge from its position. Of course, to me, it is old news. I read your "death spiral" post a while ago and agreed with you back then. I also read Kris Rusch and Dean Smith's blogs too. I know where this is all going - the same way as every other industry has gone - digital.

The reason I say the horse won't budge from its position is because this horse is more like a donkey that refuses to believe that you are right. There are people who refuse to believe that the industry will make this shift, that bookstores will close, and that publishers and traditionally published authors will feel the sting of it ... hard.

I just came from an online discussion where it was argued that the self-publishing explosion is a bubble that will pop and people will end up having to go back to traditional publishing anyway, so we should all just stick with traditional. This person thinks that the e-book market is a passing thing, a fad, that will eventually taper off.

I was blown away when I heard that. What I am wondering is if these people cannot see what is all around them in their everyday life. Everything about our world and our lives has made this shift into digital. Our cars are digital, our phones, the music we listen to, the movies we watch, the pictures we take that we place on facebook, the classes we take, the banking we do - everything digital, everything online. And yet these people seem to think that the book industry will somehow miraculously be immune to this change. That it won't happen and they can go on with their happy, traditional lives.

These are the same people who scream: "We need gatekeepers to help readers cut through the tsunami of crap books cluttering the online bookstores so that they can find good books!" I know what they are really saying is: "We need gatekeepers to help readers cut through the tsunami of crap books cluttering the online bookstores so that they can find MY books!"

So, I say, keep beating the donkey, Joe. Eventually, maybe, it will move it's dumb a$$ (pun intended) in the right direction.

Joe Konrath said...

If I can use my Kindle and check out all of Joe's books from the library for free, how does he make any money?

Library ebooks can only be checked out one at a time. If there is a big demand for my ebooks at libraries, they'll order multiple copies of each.

If they only have one copy, do you want to wait 12 weeks to get it for free, or spend $2.99 and get it right away?

Joe Konrath said...

A newbie book won't be in any associated "Also bought" lists on competing product pages.

This is still analogue thinking.

How is your book discovered and bought spine-out and full price in a bookstore when it also has 200,000 other titles and Patterson has 150 copies of his latest, discounted, on the front table?

I contend it is easier to be discovered via ebooks than the old way. There may still be some books with advantages (those who buy ads or have known names) but cream has a much better chance of rising to the top when shelf like if forever and you can price competitively.

Shaken hit the Top 100 not because of any promo YOU did, but because of promo Amazon did.

At $2.99. It's an impulse buy, and I doubt it precluded any other ebook sales.

If I go into a bookstore, and buy Patterson's latest for $16.99, I don't have a huge budget to get Konrath's latest for $25, so I probably won't.

But if both me and Jim are $2.99, people will buy both.

It is no longer buy this or that. It's buy this and that. And there have been many unknown authors who managed to sell 1000s of ebooks without any advertising. There will be many more.

That said, if I'm allowed to buy ads, hell yeah I will.

Joe Konrath said...

All of us find 10,000 hardcore ebooks? I mean, really?

Yes. Really.

There a billions of people on the planet, and you have eternity. If you're good, chances are you'll get your 10,000 fans.

It still requires, luck, talent, and hard work. But you've got a better chance at making money self-pubbing than you do with the Big 6.

Mary Stella said...

You aren't beating a dead horse, Joe. I think, some publishing houses are starting to look at how to shift things around.

They will begin to offer better deals and royalties to authors. The deals won't be 70%, but they might be enticing enough when packaged with the promise of marketing/advertising plus doing the actual work of formatting, covers, uploading, etc. etc.

I wonder how the electronic publishing opportunity will begin to change for the independent author.

At what point does Amazon start selling more placement on their site as an electronic version of co-op placement in a bookstore? Does that then squeeze out opportunity for independent authors?

NavyThriller said...

If the price is right, I might buy some Kindle ad space myself, when (and if) it becomes available. I'll be especially interested if they can offer an engine that zeroes in on my target readers.

If someone buys Clancy, Buff, and Coonts, they might be interested in my work. I'd hate to pay good money to get my ads in front of romance readers. (Nothing against romance fans. They're just not the target audience for my books.)

Christina said...

It's not even just that the ereaders are getting cheaper, it's also that some of them are getting easier to use and load books.

My mom can't figure out the most basic things on her computer, or even her cell phone (it drives me nuts b/c I've given her the same lessons over and over again) but she recently bought a Kindle and bought her first batch of books all by herself. 5 of the 6 were self-published--she had no clue they were, she just bought the first reasonably priced books that looked good and "popped up" on her amazon screen. She then took the kindle to her bridge group and showed it off, how easy it is...and a bunch of the ladies ordered one right away and they are talking about having an "ebook club" meet every week.

That? Would NEVER have happened a couple years ago. It blows my mind, and more than anything has proven to me that times are a-changin.

Jon Olson said...

As usual, bracing stuff. What I'm waiting for is the first self-pubbed ebook to win a pulitzer. Ha! Then we'll know we've arrived, critically speaking.

Ah, who cares.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone
The Ride Home

Yellow Cat Books said...

I think ebooks will become more and more popular with Boomers as they downsize and don't want to haul a bunch of books around.

And ditto for many other people, such as students, etc. who live simple and light and aren't into owning a bunch of things.

KL Mutter said...

I would like to echo what others have said about the older generation and ebooks. My parents (early 70s) bought before any of the younger generations did. They like big print, they have more leisure, and they travel more than the rest of us.

puravida said...

I am one of the people who wish to thank you. After crafting that query letter until my fingers bled, I decided to self publish and have made it to Number 1 in my category. Did it without a publisher, just made sure I had a good book that was well written.

Number 1 feels good. I'll be sure to tell that to those agents who rejected me.


Nadine,
Happier Than a Billionaire

Anonymous said...

I've been watching this whole thing for a long time, and things are progressing about the way I thought they would, with regards to plain "print" media--Stories, and other things primarily textual.

What I can't quite see a way forward for is in the realm of things that require illustrations to accompany the text, i.e. books addressing technical matters, and those sorts of things we refer to as "coffee table books".

I'm afraid that it's going to be a few generations before the Kindle and iPad manage to achieve the resolution necessary, and for the formatting conventions to be developed for such things. Until then, I fear that the market for such publications is going to be dominated by hard-copy print. That may not be true in a few more generations of technology, but for the present, and foreseeable future, I feel that it is.

Archangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Archangel said...

Glad you took some time with the family Joe, bet that means a lot to them. Is your son an up and coming writer too? Wouldnt be surprised.

On another note, Alberto Vitale gave an interview recently; it's worth googling to read in contrast to yours today (I cannot figure out how to make an active link here, sorry)...amongst other things he takes credit for being the first (as former CEO of Random under the Newhouse brothers) for insisting on erights. I and many others were casualties of his 'take no prisoners' demands that (seriously) insisted that clauses in contracts say not only digital, "but all other related rights not yet invented.' That's not the precise wording, but close.

In the interview he doesnt recall the year he instituted such: it was 1993. Most of us will never forget the year as it was like being tied to the railroad tracks if one wanted to continue being published. In the interview he admits he tried to close out agents for ALL sales if they did not capitulate to his demands.

He also says re Borders, a poof, it always had bad leadership. The interview was an eyeopener for we had suspected, but never had proof what was going on behind the scenes til now. Vitale is convinced big 6 will have precious hardcover editions at 35 and 45 dollars a pop, that hardcovers are priced too low now. He is on theEbooks foundation board or some such. I think driving with a towel over wind shield.

Many of us refused to publish our books under contracts made in the 1990s with this despicable clause. They hold our erights for ransom nonetheless. Either way, they dont care; publish with them and they keep lion's share. Dont publish with them and they have no outlay. No sweat for them. Just squatter's rights forever, it seems. Your advice Joe about advance needing to be 'life-changing' is good advice. What that would be for each likely varies. But also think mineral rights, water rights to the land, not that you only own, but through your labors (time is the only thing we dont have more of) the land you MADE, and then see what you think before you sign your 90%+ over to others. The days of the hayseed rubes who are just trying to stay alive and there's only one river that's owned by a troll, are over. I truly hope.

surviving bliss said...

Love the advice, don't love the beating-a-dead-horse metaphor. Why not upgrade your word choice so it's as enlightened as your message? Thanks!

Watcher said...

Does anybody here have experience self publishing college textbooks? My Dad is preparing the third edition of his college level book on logic and type theory. He doesn't get much support from his publisher, so I suggested he consider the indeoendent route. But the challenges there seem somewhat unique (such as what it takes to format a Latec doc for Amazon, and how to promote to Universities.

Any thoughts, insights or experience would be greatly appreciated.

Silver Bowen said...

The best part about all this, to me, is being part of the generation that will never have to write a query letter.

Generation in terms of time writing, not age, BTW.

Also, not really the best part, I lied. But pretty damn awesome.

LA Burton said...

I think Joe has become the go to poster guy for ebook self publishing. GO JOE!

Sean McCartney said...

I just read that Borders did not receive a single offer and are on their way to liquidation. There is also a nice article by Mitch Albom about bookstores. If I knew anything about computers I would put the link here but I don't. It still is a good article.

Sean McCartney

Robert Burton Robinson said...

A newbie book won't be in any associated "Also bought" lists on competing product pages. Sure, everyone has a chance to be a bestseller (or even to sell) -- just like everyone has a chance to be president. It's democracy with a catch.

I love Amazon's also bought feature, but I've learned that it can carry to the top-100 list as it did with one of my books for 29 days, and then drop you like a rock. There seems to be a lot of luck involved.

And Amazon can change the algorithm for their various features like also boughts, tags, etc., at any time, and there is nothing you can do about it.

So you've got to do everything you can to find fans and make a long-term connection---through social networking, a blog or website, a newsletter, free short stories or other writing, audio stories or interviews, etc.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

I still think somebody should come up with a POD machine that can be set up in grocery store or a rest stop

If you are using LSI, you can get listed with The Espresso Book Machine http://www.ondemandbooks.com/

However, it's not automatic. You have to contact your rep and fill out additional paperwork.

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-7

Russell Brooks said...

Joe, the way I understand it, publishers are selling to the bookstores and not to the public. Do you think that B&N and Books-A-Million will eventually cave to the demands of authors in order to survive? Take for example, if bookstores had a POD printer in the back of their stores or in a separate factory (in town) that would still allow consumers to call-in or order their book online, the bookstore prints them, and then the consumers pick them up at the end of the day. This way, people that still prefer print can pick up either a hardcover or paperback version. The prices could be competitive to what Amazon and other online booksellers sell their print books for (including shipping and handling). Just a thought.

Russell Brooks
Author of Unsavory Delicacies

Andy Conway said...

Great post, Joe. Yes, it can be like flogging a dead horse as regards the people with most to lose, but I'm seeing writers, the poeple with most to gain, doing an about face in their droves.

When you inspired me back in February to indie-publish my backlog of novels and challenge myself to publish 11 titles before 11.11.2011, I started discussing it enthusiastically with writers and filmmakers I know. To my surprise, almost everyone, without fail, responded with the usual mantras:

- No one makes money on the internet
- Self-publishing is vanity publishing
- No publisher will touch anyone who self-publishes
- No one has a Kindle
- Ebooks will never outsell paperbacks
- It will never work

What surprised me was not that these statements were the result of research or considered opinion, but how they were just soundbites repeated parrot fashion, on impulse, received opinion. It was startling.

Now, only five months later, all of those same people are asking me how to get started on publishing their own novels and have completely accepted the new paradigm, without even admitting they ever denied it in the first place.

Things are moving very fast.

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11 on Amazon and Smashwords : 4 down, 7 to go
The Budapest Breakfast Club, a Euromcom, out now...

Linsey Lanier said...

I don't think this horse is dead, Joe. I need the regular dose of reality I get from reading posts like this. You are one of my heroes. I've always thought the Kindle was a little pricey (got mine secondhand), but this sentence of yours made me stop and think. "Why buy four hard covers when you can get an e-reader for the same price?" Good point.

I love being able to download all my friends' releases in a few seconds, right in my own home.

Have you seen the latest Kindle commercials? The woman going to the bookstore, and the cute guy says, oh yeah, I've got that book right here. I feel like I'm on TV when I see it. That ad is helping my sales. Bookstores don't have any kind of counter-campaign...

Glynn James said...

I used to be determined that I was going to get a traditional publishing deal. It was all I dreamed about - but I soon realised that my writing was too niche and too short for publishers to bother with.
I only went self-pub mid-April and I've already made about $400 (ish) in sales since then, and those sales are rising a little every month.

That's from completely unknown to $400 in a couple of months.

This is a chance that I never would have had otherwise and I think this applies to many unpublished authors.

I also write a lot more now because I KNOW it will be published and that is such a huge motivating factor. I also get emails daily from readers who want to know when the next book is out - which always makes me write a bit faster.

Let the flood gates open.
I've already built my boat.

ex insider said...

Great stuff as usual, Joe. Your comments here reminded me to ask you about another group of writers/editors/publishers who seem to have serious, possibly terminal, Stockholm Syndrome. That's the "literary" ones. You talk about Borders closing and how that's going to be great for us e-publishing types, but in the "literary" world, that doesn't exist. Especially for stories. If you have a story, you have to get it published in College-With-MFA-Program Review (circulation 25). Then after ten of these, you're good for a collection. And if you're really good, instead of University-With-MFA-Program Press, maybe your collection will be brought out by Little Brown or Simon & Schuster.

I know what the first response is: just e-pub your collection yourself. But for the "literary" genre, publishing the stories individually in the little reviews helps, I think theoretically at least, with editing and gaining a following. But I'd almost wager to say that you could get both someone iwth self e-publishing, if you do it right.

In any case, the old way of submitting stories to the reviews and waiting for your 1% acceptance rate to build up to enough "credits" for you to "shop" a collection doesn't feel 2009 to me at all. It feels more like 1999.

Selena Kitt said...

Did anyone else see that Stephen King is releasing an ebook novella at $2.99?

It's still with Simon and Schuster, of course. He didn't pull a Rowling... yet.

But if Joe (and the rest of us) have to compete with SK and Rowling at $2.99?

Yikes.

I'm just sayin'...

Fawn Neun said...

There are also a lot of small Press/ePublishers who provide good royalties and professional packaging services that are not the big 6 and not Amazon publishing.

Just sayin'...

TheSFReader said...

@selena Yikes indeed ... until you realize that there are a few who don't like SK, and or that once his book is read, the reader will want an other one ... not necessarily from the same author and/or in the same genre... and that as readership "expand", production from reknown authors will not necessarily be sufficient.

For example, I wouldn't go to SK to read HOT stories such as yours, would I ?

Add to that that for such low prices people may be more willing to take risks on other names ...

Selena Kitt said...

For example, I wouldn't go to SK to read HOT stories such as yours, would I ?

No, the niche markets like erotica (and the volume markets - like mystery and romance) will probably still remain a good place to provide continuing revenue for the indies. But the newbies coming into the gold-rush ebook game now, without name recognition, may have a harder time finding readers if they have to compete with King or Rowling at the same price point.

Or maybe I'm wrong and there really are 10K readers for every writer! :)

gniz said...

Hey Selena,

I share your view that it would be tough for the self pubbed to compete with authors like Stephen King at a 2.99 price point.

But as long as they are still trying to make print the dominant form, they will only be putting out stories and novellas at 2.99 or .99 on occasion, and mostly they will continue at the higher price points for the near future.

The bottom line, though, and we all know this deep down--this field is going to be getting more and more competitive over the course of the next year or two. I think and hope that we're at least a year from the point where breaking in will be very difficult and maintaining a high profile on Amazon or B&N will start to be a struggle.

The more books--good books--that are available at good prices, the more cycling through Amazon and B&N will do, and books won't linger as long in the top of the charts unless they're a big hit.

Right now I am making over 2K a month on my ebooks, and it's increasing. But I wonder how long it will be before the market gets crowded and there are more and more books crowding those lists.

I still think we've got at least a year, which is enough time to make a hell of a lot of money.

wannabuy said...

@Pheonix:A newbie book won't be in any associated "Also bought" lists

Indie authors fill my also bought list. Oh, not 100%. In my opinion, Amazon is just trying to sell books. It has identified me as liking certain types of books... Dang if it isn't doing a good job selling to me!

Best sellers are representing a smaller and smaller fraction of books for one great reason: there is no longer a short shelf life for being mid-list!

As Joe says, ebooks are forever...

Neil

wannabuy said...

@Anon: "I'm afraid that it's going to be a few generations before the Kindle and iPad manage to achieve the resolution necessary,"

My friends in IT already have all their technical books in pdf form (on laptop).

The dual screen tables (Lenovo) are targeting this market and will be a better solution than paper. It will happen sooner rather than later.

I've already ditched most of my technical references for my corporations on line technical books. The first fields to go digital are those that are changing quickly: medicine and IT. Heck, my sister is buying a 2nd tablet as too many of her medical refresher courses are in flash to stick with her iPad.

Its already happened. Just first in the fast changing fields.

Neil

wannabuy said...

@gniz:"The bottom line, though, and we all know this deep down--this field is going to be getting more and more competitive over the course of the next year or two."

Which will draw more readers to ereaders which is best for the mid-list and new indie author.

The angst will be at the high cost producers! They cannot pay the mortgage on the NYC headquarters, pay high NYC based executive salaries, increase author royalties, and charge $2.99.

The next few years look great for Indie authors. Now imagine what happens when Amazon stops being stupid and enters India...

The market is about to expand 10X faster than the competition.

Neil

Ted Summerfield said...

Joe, you forgot to mention that Amazon offers 2 royalty rates: 35% for ebooks less than $2.99, and the 70% you mentioned for ebooks listed for $2.99 and above.

Most of my ebooks on Smashwords sell for $0.99, where I can earn a living at 60% as opposed to starving on Amazon at 35% royalty.

If Amazon wasn't treating authors the same as print publishers and offering starvation royalties, then I would publish more of my ebooks on Amazon.

There may be some authors who jack their prices up to sell on Amazon at $2.99 or more, but I'd rather not sell there than be forced to raise my prices just to earn a living on Amazon.

My blog.

Smashwords Forum.

Merrill Heath said...

The SFReader said: Yikes indeed ... until you realize that there are a few who don't like SK, and or that once his book is read, the reader will want an other one ... not necessarily from the same author and/or in the same genre... and that as readership "expand", production from reknown authors will not necessarily be sufficient.

This is a key point. "Big name" authors are producing 1 or 2 books a year. But avid readers are reading 1 or 2 books a week - sometimes more than that. I may lose out to David Baldacci or Michael Connelly this week, but what happens next week when the reader has finished their latest releases? I'm not competing with Baldacci and Connelly then.

Avid readers are constantly looking for new books to read. "Big Name" authors having success with ebooks only helps all us "little guys" by expanding the adoption of the technology.

Don't worry about the competition or the slush pile or the tsunami of crap. Write good books and keep them coming because, as John Locke said, once your readers find you they're going to want to read all your books. Volume is critical to sustaining revenue from your writing. Get your backlist out there (providing they're good books) and keep adding to the list with (several) new books every year.

Merrill Heath
Mysteries Worth Investigating

Vernon Baker said...

Spot on Joe. I just self-published my first novel and followed your pointers to a tee. It is indeed a great time to be a writer. Thanks for all you do.

Vernon Baker
www.vernonjbaker.com

Mark Asher said...

This is a key point. "Big name" authors are producing 1 or 2 books a year. But avid readers are reading 1 or 2 books a week - sometimes more than that. I may lose out to David Baldacci or Michael Connelly this week, but what happens next week when the reader has finished their latest releases? I'm not competing with Baldacci and Connelly then.

Except that a lot of these big name writers may continue to write the 1 or 2 novels a year but also self-publish 6 novellas and 8 short stories every year too. Most of them can write faster than 1-2 books a year.

R.S. said...

Joe I took one of those query classes. It "worked"-i got lots of requests. And then just got a rejection on a full saying that my novel was much better than 90 percent of what the agents sees, but big six won't buy it, too risky, not a big enough "angle."

I felt like everything was pure suckitude but maybe not. Maybe I'll stand behind it myself.

Selena Kitt said...

Except that a lot of these big name writers may continue to write the 1 or 2 novels a year but also self-publish 6 novellas and 8 short stories every year too. Most of them can write faster than 1-2 books a year.

If we can, why couldn't they? Stephen King had to fight to get more than one book a year released way back when and proved he could definitely sell 3-4 a year if he wanted to.

Some romance authors are publishing a book a month. Those readers are voracious.

Merrill Heath said...

I think some will and others won't. It will be interesting to see what some of the big names will do without being reined in by a publisher.

Of course, I can't control what they do. I can only control what I do. My objective is to write good books that are entertaining to my target market. I hope to someday get to the point where I'm writing full time and can produce 2 novels and 2-3 novellas a year. That should be enough to satisfy my readers and keep them coming back for more. And to provide me with a comfortable income for as long as I'm able to keep producing quality books.

Merrill Heath
Bearing False Witness

Barbara Morgenroth said...

I was looking for one thing and found a dessert cookbook by Roland Mesnier, a former White House chef. Hardcover price was $27.99.
Nook price was $29.99.

I am grateful for the laugh that persists every time I contemplate it.

W. Dean said...

I have a question and an observation:

1. Someone has to fill me in here about the proprietary issues surrounding e-book formats (e.g., mobi for Kindle). I say this because the natural evolution of a writer of e-books is to use Amazon (and the others) as a platform, instead of a distributor. In other words, the writer should use Amazon as a store window to find readers, but the ultimate aim should be to sell one’s books from one’s own site (keeping all the sale price), perhaps by offering something extra. I assume Amazon’s (and others’) contract prevents this, but I don’t know.

2. The specter of piracy. Joe and others think the best defense against piracy is price, which is true to the extent that high prices create an incentive to get around the system, low prices diminish the incentive. But once a critical mass of e-books on e-readers is reached, and once people become more familiar with the technology, there’s no reason to believe that e-books won’t be traded like music and paperbacks. I’d expect whole online clubs to emerge where readers trade free copies of e-books. In other words, torrent sites will go mainstream.

W. Dean said...

Watcher,

I can speak to the purchasing side of an e-book. Your father’s problem will be twofold. The lesser problem will be to convince professors to buy a self-published textbook (even a previously published one). Not an insurmountable task, especially if the price is right.

The bigger problem is that you cannot prescribe a textbook that requires the purchase of an e-reader. That hurdle will vastly diminish the likelihood of selling it.

Katherine Owen said...

Stephen King with a novella at $2.99 only helps all of us. Really. Let's see I can buy a traditionally published book for $9.99 or higher or get three e-books (Indie) spending the same amount of money (under $10)including, perhaps, a SK novella. It's all good. The boat will rise along with everyone else's or something like that and I think our spiritual leader J.A. Konrath will agree with me and say once again, "forever is a long time".

Great post, as always, Joe! And, as Sara W. said you were the one that convinced me to self-publish.

Katherine Owen
Author of Not To Us and Seeing Julia

BigW said...

No query letters, no agents, no publishing houses, no form rejections – no gatekeepers!

Best of all you can write what you want, create new genres and find a like-minded audience.

It sounds and feels like empire building mixed with anarchy and complete liberation to find your own level of success.

There truly has never been a better time to be a writer.

Melissa Douthit said...

Amen!

MGalloway said...

@Eloheim and Veronica:

Interesting! I wonder if they have any plans on future expansion. I looked through the EBM brochure, and although it sounds like it would be easy to use, I wonder how successful it has been. I suppose I can check out their "news" page to check on that.

Edward M. Grant said...

But once a critical mass of e-books on e-readers is reached, and once people become more familiar with the technology, there’s no reason to believe that e-books won’t be traded like music and paperbacks.

Music is widely traded. That hasn't stopped iTunes becoming extremely successful even with the crazy prices it charges for music tracks; perhaps they've dropped recently but in the past I could usually buy a CD for less than the cost of buying the same tracks from iTunes.

I'd love to know that people were lending my books to their friends because every friend they lend to is a potential buyer the next time I release a book. And so long as the price is closer to $5 than $25 there's a good chance they will do.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Neil: Indie authors fill my also bought list. Oh, not 100%. In my opinion, Amazon is just trying to sell books. It has identified me as liking certain types of books... Dang if it isn't doing a good job selling to me!

I absolutely agree! I attribute what success my e-novel has had with the internal marketing mechanisms Amazon provides.

However, I noticed it took about 200 sales before the book started showing up in others' "also bought" lists. Amazon gives a push to those who can get initial momentum going on their own. Anecdotal evidence seems to show maybe 50% of authors aren't going to reach the number and frequency of sales needed to turn on Amazon's internal marketing aids.

What happens when that push becomes pay-per-impression or subscription advertising? Just like in a grocery store, virtual shelf positioning matters. The store makes money from selling boutique items, but how often do you see them being pushed?

Amazon doesn't care if it sells a buyer YOUR book or Joe's. From a business perspective, pushing a name book that has shown to sell a higher percentage from the same number of impressions will make them more money. It's how they do it now. It's what they will continue to do -- on steroids -- in the future.

Again, I'm not dissing it. I'm jumping in myself -- I'm just not going in with blinders on. And I'm saying that Amazon is not out to support the little guy until the little guy has proven s/he's worth supporting. And that's gonna take more and more money on the little guy's side to do.

Remember, Joe has a different experience and perspective from the newbie now. What Amazon is doing for him, the company isn't doing for No Name Author publishing out their first military occult romance novel.

Edward M. Grant said...

To get to a newbie's book, a buyer has to know the title or author to begin with. If they don't, the browsing experience is rife with all sorts of obstacles to being found.

I uploaded a short story to Amazon a couple of weeks ago under a pseudonym mostly to figure out the formatting and upload process before I have a novel completed. I was surprised that within a week I'd sold a copy.

So someone found and bought a short story from an uknown name with no links from any other stories and no mention of its existence on the web other than at Amazon and Smashwords. Clearly people can find new stories that interest them from new authors if they want to.

Watcher said...

W. Dean,

Thanks for your thoughts. I agree on the challenges. Though I do wonder how big a hurdle the e-reader requirement is. Many new textbooks cost $100+. Buying an e-reader on top of an inexpensive book might not be such a huge investment. It would be a slam dunk if at least 2-3 professors used eBooks in their curricula. But to your point, it might be the cultural resistance more than real economics.

Anybody else have any experience in this area?

Edward M. Grant said...

What happens when that push becomes pay-per-impression or subscription advertising?

I buy two types of books on Amazon:

1. Books I've heard of elsewhere and know I want to buy.
2. Books that appear in the recommendations and look interesting.

If Amazon stop recommending me books that I like and start recommending me books that publishers have paid them to recommend, then they'll lose most of my business from those recommendations.

They can certainly put up front page ads and do targetted marketing, but it's certainly not going to make a big difference to my book choice. In fact, I already get so many advertising emails from Amazon these days that I rarely even open them.

Watcher said...

@Anon: "I'm afraid that it's going to be a few generations before the Kindle and iPad manage to achieve the resolution necessary,"

Actually, it was a technical book that first got me interested in ebooks. I needed something to read in the airport on my iPad, so I downloaded something on A+ Certification. I liked how the diagrams could be enlarged dynamically. So that's a plus, not a minus.

I'll also refer to a recent article in the NYTimes that discusses how some airlines are allowing their pilots to carry an iPad (or two, for redundancy) instead of the 40 pounds of documentation they're currently required to carry. I was interested to learn that those duffle bags you always see pilots carrying are full of manuals, not clothes. Not all airlines support this yet, but a few do, and seems like the rest will be following soon, given the cost savings involved.

Alastair Mayer said...

W. Dean said: The bigger problem is that you cannot prescribe a textbook that requires the purchase of an e-reader.

I doubt that's a serious problem. Many (most?) colleges these days require students to have laptops, and there's plenty of e-reader software for those. It's also the case that many hardcopy textbooks are priced up in e-reader territory (north of $100/copy), so it's almost a moot point. Particularly if the e-text is available in multiple formats.

KL Mutter said...

I have to say the potential for college textbooks going to ereaders is a great one.

Imagine the potential for students with special needs - vision or dyslexia.

Rashkae said...

W Dean:

Allow me to address your concerns about book piracy, from the perspective of a book pirate.

(Yeah, I'm sure I just made myself real popular with all the writers here.)

It is an almost endless source of puzzlement and vexation for me why people continue to buy books from proprietary DRM encumbered vendors (such as Amazon), when the book trading clubs you speak of already exist and are very active. But the simple truth is, 'maintream' has, for the most part, rejected the responsibility of managing their own data files. Consider, for example, the success of Itunes. And even here, consider how popular sales are on Amazon vs. Smashwords (for those authors who use both), even though Smashwords gives a far more 'technically' friendly product.

Price is a way to beat the pirates, but is not the only, and I would say, often, not even the best method. The way to 'beat' pirates is with convenience and advertising. (People have to find pirates, then have to find the book they are looking for. This is non-trivial for most consumers.) If you have that, and the price of the product is within impulse purchase range, I don't think you need fear piracy at all.

Rashkae said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy said...

Ah, the poor query letter.
I disagree and believe it is an art form worth pursuing for the following reasons:
1) If you can get an agent to ask for a partial or a full manuscript, based upon your query letter, you're 80% there to a great back cover blurb.
2) It lets you test your blurb-baking skills on the most ruthless of audiences, agents and publishers!
3) Writing a query letter forces you to encapsulate what your book is all about. If you can't do that, chances are good your book is "muddy" and you need to clarify your underlying concepts.

It's one of the ways you can hone your writing skills. It's also an opportunity to ensure your book is the best it can be by identifying the core concepts.

Just my thoughts on that.

I should add, there is ONE MORE NAIL...Amazon is going to start a program to rent text books to students. If they do that, students can stretch their education dollars further, plus save their spines as they won't be lugging around a pile of heavy books.

And that's a forest full of trees that won't have to be chopped down to make more books. And a few more publishers probably shaking in their boots at the thought of all those text book dollars fading away...

Is that the next evolution? Self-publishing text books? That would really be interesting...
Amy Corwin
http://www.amycorwin.com

David Willis said...

Such a great post. I truly believe the eBook market is going to completely destroy print. But the most solid point is the one you made about disposable technology. As long as the prices of eReaders continues to drop, the eBook will win, again and again.

Robin Sullivan said...

Welcome back Joe...

It will be interesting to see how big-six traditional publishers change. I know they are late to the game, but I see some signs that are adjusting. What happens to the indie author if they "smarten up". I know you think they never will...but never say never.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

MGalloway said...I still think somebody should come up with a POD machine that can be set up in grocery store or a rest stop (like a Redbox machine...but call it a PODBox).

That technology already exists - it is called the Espresso and it's been around for years - it just donsn't have much widespread adoption - mainly because of the way they ware selling it IMO. It shoudl be sold like ATM machines where it is owned by the person placing the machines - not owned by the bookstores or coffee shops that have to buy and maintain them.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

JL Bryan said...Increasingly, self-publishing seems like the road to a good publishing deal, if that's what you want--look at Amanda Hocking, H.P. Mallory, Michael Sullivan, etc. None of them would have gotten a great deal with a publisher if they hadn't self-pubbed first.

There's no question in my mind that Michael would have recieved $15,000 - $30,000 advance rather than his six-figure advance if he hadn't self published first.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robin Sullivan said...

Regarding the interview with Vitale here is the link

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Robert Burton Robinson said...

@Rashkae: The way to 'beat' pirates is with convenience and advertising.

Convenience, yes. Advertising, no. Have you ever tried to make advertising money from your fiction? People have always hated ads, and they'll do everything they can to avoid them. Ever skip TV commercials with your DVR?

Online ads can be blocked. Ads in books can be ignored or removed via software. People hate ads.

Surely it's possible to make SOMETHING from ads. Yeah, maybe a nickel per book, if you do everything right.

I blogged about it a while back:
Free Novels with Ads: Dead on Arrival

Anonymous said...

Joe says: "There a billions of people on the planet, and you have eternity. If you're good, chances are you'll get your 10,000 fans."

Cut that down to English-speaking book buyers who read your genre on electronic devices and who are able to find your books among the exponentially growing list of writers (in the millions soon), and 10,000 hardcore fans is very unlikely for most writers. The numbers of writers far outpaces the number of available readers, so the readers' time is still going to be the number one limiting factor.

MGalloway said...

Robin Sullivan wrote:

"That technology already exists - it is called the Espresso and it's been around for years - it just donsn't have much widespread adoption - mainly because of the way they ware selling it IMO. It shoudl be sold like ATM machines where it is owned by the person placing the machines - not owned by the bookstores or coffee shops that have to buy and maintain them."

Good point.

Although I looked at the EBM site earlier today and noticed something else: the device doesn't look all that "user-friendly" despite what the brochure ad copy says.

In some photos, it looks like a machine attached to copier (which it is), but to the average user, it looks like it takes a set of engineers to run it. Maybe POD technology cannot be miniaturized at this point in time to fit in the space of a vending machine...but I would think it would help in terms of accessibility for the average end user. Then again, maybe limiting the amount of titles that can be ordered through the machine would help that..

Bert Carson said...

In Vietnam, according to the old Sergeant who met our plane, there are only two kinds of soldiers, "The quick and the dead." I think it would be appropriate to substitute self-published and forgotten in the often repeated phrase. Keep whopping the horse until everyone is in one group or the other. Thanks, Bert

josephinewade said...

@Robin
I read that article. I like how he gave the 5-10 year span as when he suspected things would be 'worked out'. Now I know my personal 1-2 year plan to get my work up is well beneath theirs and I can relax a little.

Nice to know they see no urgency. I realize he was talking about foreign rights problems, but I got the impression everything fell into the same sense 'it'll work out eventually'.

josephinewade said...

P.S. Joe I'm glad you're back from your vacation. It sounds like it was long over due.

By the way, what kind of condition was that cabin in after you and Blake were done with it?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the encouraging post. I loved your ebook conversation with Barry Eisler, Be the Monkey. After reading the book and talking with a literary agent about the future of print & digital, I decided to self-publish. My book went live last week. I absolutely feel I did the right thing. Thanks again!

Selena Kitt said...

Imagine the potential for students with special needs - vision or dyslexia.

My daughter is dyslexic and an ereader is such a great thing for her. She can look up words she doesn't know (definitions) with one click and can turn the screen different colors (which really helps dyslexics) to make the contrast of the text different. She can also have it read out loud if she wants. As she gets older, I imagine it will be even more of an important tool.

Joe Konrath said...

By the way, what kind of condition was that cabin in after you and Blake were done with it?

No joking, Blake and I drank $1300 worth of beer in 7 days.

I love being me. :)

Joe Konrath said...

Cut that down to English-speaking book buyers who read your genre on electronic devices and who are able to find your books among the exponentially growing list of writers (in the millions soon), and 10,000 hardcore fans is very unlikely for most writers.

Wrong. Right now I'm in the process of translating my ebooks into German, since Amazon launched a German Kindle. Other languages will follow. Horror and thrillers are pretty much universal. Just like ereaders will someday be as ubiquitous as mp3 players or cell phones.

10,000 hardcore fans is a small number in a global economy. I already have fans in Germany, Russia, Japan, Korea, Croatia, Hungary, Sweden, etc. Ebooks will allow me to reach even more people.

josephinewade said...

***No joking, Blake and I drank $1300 worth of beer in 7 days.

I love being me. :)***

LOL

That's what I was picturing. Sounds like a blast.

Vernon Baker said...

$1300 worth of PBR is alot of beer my friend. Or was it Stella? Inquiring minds need to know.

Christina Carson said...

It's most encouraging to have your continual clear-headed and well substantiated views. Three cheers for your brassy description of the state of play in the writing scene. Many thanks, Joe.
Christina Carson

Joe Konrath said...

Beer included many rare Firestone Walker ales, Brewdog, Three Floyds, Sam Adams (Savor and Utopias), Thomas Hardy, Cigar City, Foothills, Dogfish Head, Mikkeller, Bruery, and Bells, among others.

Some of the bottles were $50 to $150 each. Our faves included the Savor, A Cherry Adam From the Wood, Southern Tier Mocha, Four Roses Eclipse 50/50, and the 120 IPA. The big disappointment was Sexual Chocolate, which had an unexpected sour note to it.

Traci Hohenstein said...

Mark me down as an unknown author who has sold 1000's of ebooks without any advertising (except for POI and I was already selling over a 100 a day by the time my ad came out). I know a lot of other indie authors who are selling just as well as me...and just self-pubbed this year.

I also LOVE my $114 Kindle. The only advertising is on the front when the Kindle is in the "OFF" mode and I that doesn't bother me. Best Buy in my area is selling them faster than they can keep them in stock.

Vernon Baker said...

$50-$150 per beer? Holy crap! Next time my wife bitc...I mean lovingly councils me on my $15-$20 a bottle wine habit, I am going to share that post.

Guess I need to sell more books!

Jason said...

So then Joe, can we assume you and Blake will be releasing two versions of STIRRED? The sober version and the 'wasted cabin' version?

I know which one I'll be reading first...!

W. Dean said...

Edward M. Grant,

Maybe the sharers will become buyers or maybe they’ll just buy one copy of the new release and share it. When it becomes an everyday thing to do—and it will—much of the potential value will be lost.

Watcher & Alastair Mayer,

I know whereof I speak on this one. And although it’s probably only a short-term problem, the pain-in-the-ass factor associated with using a book exclusively available in electronic format will be too much for most when you can assign the same old traditional book without any problem.

Robin Sullivan said...

MGalloway said...I agree those POD machines look terrible - the first generation I saw looked more like a "jukebox" and were (IMO) much cooler - my guess is they didn't work very well. I agree with the other poster here that they probably missed their window of opportunity - they should have been out a few years ago.

Still if print continues to decline as it has been it may be that these POD machines are the ONLY way to get a paperback title and only "printed" books will be special editions and hardcovers.


Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Ian Martin said...

It’s not the cough that will carry you off. No, it’s the coffin they’ll carry you off in.

Here in South Africa the book stores are coughing like it’s terminal, and I have no sympathy for them. In my first Shockspeare novel I set some of the choice action in Exclusive Books, Constantia Village Mall. And do you know how many copies of “Pop-splat” they were able to move? None! Not one.

Set right there in their own shop, and they were too tired to tell their customers that this was a cool story all about THEM.

Well, the sooner they’re dead, the better. Bring on the coffin and let’s enjoy the wake.

James said...

"A paper book cannot. Digital files ALWAYS win out over analogue."

Print books won't be disappearing in our lifetime. There are far, far too many people who like the tactile nature of them and the actual ownership of the object. Production of them will decrease and many will only be available through POD, but they won't go away entirely until a couple of generations have been raised on ebooks. Unlike CDs, VHS tapes, etc., the print book format has been around for a very long time, in one form or another.


"If library attendance drops because of online downloading, watch how libraries begin to make you come to the library in order to download."

We won't make you visit the library to download things. The libraries who offer ebooks now rarely (if ever) require that. We'll try to find other ways to lure you in.

Library visits are increasing in most places. In addition to books, music, movies, etc., some libraries now lend electronic equipment, toys, power tools, lawn equipment, etc. In addition, they provide meeting and study spaces, events, community space, and more.

However, we will probably see fewer libraries in the future. That's already happening in many places. Ultimately, though, that's an economic issue.

"We're about to enter the age of the microniche ebook. All of us can find 10,000 hardcore fans, with or without advertising."

Microniches are great for the ebook world, particularly in non-fiction. There are a number of genres that have never received much attention from the traditional publishing world, even though they have eager fan bases waiting for something new to buy.

Joseph Finley said...

This is another great post, Joe. You've become the champion of the self-publishing movement. And I think your opponents have a hard time dealing with your logic. I'm new to the Kindle, but the first book I purchased was your Newbie's Guide to Publishing. Thanks.

Joe Konrath said...

However, we will probably see fewer libraries in the future.

This is a shame. I love librarians, and booksellers, and it hurts to see smart, talented people who love books get dismissed.

K1YPP said...

Darley wrote very much earlier: But I feel like we're in the Dark Ages with this shift in how content of all sorts is being delivered to us.

I would argue it isn't the Dark Ages. Back in the Dark Ages it was all monks/scribes transcribing Bibles by hand. They wrote with quill pens and ink on very expensive paper. Each edition was a one-off copy.

Then along came Gutenburg. I can just see the monk's reaction: "Hmmm, it doesn't feel like a book, and look, they're all the same, no identity, no character, it doesn't even smell like a book. Nope, it's just a passing fad, nobody will want that thing."

Joe, your comment about dead-horses inspired me to further develop your comment on my blog, How-long-before-print-books-become-a-novelty?. It concerns New York City and the "horse" problem it had a hundred years ago and how it parallels the ereader situation today. Thanks for the inspiration once again!
Dennis, Author of: Three Hundred Zeroes

Selena Kitt said...

However, we will probably see fewer libraries in the future.

This is a shame. I love librarians, and booksellers, and it hurts to see smart, talented people who love books get dismissed.


All true.

And besides that, sexy librarians are an erotica staple! What will we do without sexy librarians?! :)

Renee Schuls-Jacobson said...

So my book might be done? I can stop querying and just feel good that my beta readers are enough and self-pub. Shizzle sticks! This is a slightly different message from Kristin Lamb, but she also believes that social media and being well connected is a much better way to sell books in 2011.

Do maybe I'll never see my book in a library. Maybe I have settle for eBook? Hmmmm.

Thanks for the great info.

Paul Mannering said...

The last print book I bought was 'The Straine' by Guilermo Del Toro - it was a complete turd of a novel. Utter, utter, utter shit. It offended me that I couldn't delete it and feel better. That was two years ago. Since then I have bought over 200 e-books from Amazon. Most of them for under $5, the majority of them for $0.99. A lot of them were complete crap in both writing ability and story content too. But I felt less indignant due to the price and the ability to delete them from my Kindle at whim.

indium said...

How about a moderate advance and 50/50 on ebooks? That would be something to think about.

Cool Indium that you took some vacation time, and I want to hear about what it was like spending a week in a cabin with another author did you write Ceramic Tile in separate rooms and then get together for discussions

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