Writers, take heed: a sea change is under way

The term “sea change” means “a metamorphosis or alteration“.  That’s what we’re facing right now in the publishing market – not just traditional publishing, but indie publishers and authors as well.  I’ve mentioned it several times in previous articles, but it’s becoming so clear and so powerful that I think it deserves an article all to itself.  Some of you may disagree with what I’m going to say, but I think I can provide abundant evidence for my arguments.  We’ll see who’s right over the next year or two.

The “sea change” is our ability to make a living as authors;  and that, in turn, is driven by the changing nature of the market.  Book sales continue to decline in traditional markets, even though supplemented by “officially unrecorded” sales of independently published books that don’t use ISBN’s or other traditional tracking measures.  What’s more, traditionally strong markets such as children’s books are also suffering – see, for example, Scholastic’s poor results.

What’s more troubling – nice for independent authors right now, but troubling for the future – is where book sales are happening.  Author Earnings pointed out, in its keynote address to Digital Book World earlier this year:

 

 

There’s a reason why Amazon’s dominance is a potentially worrying factor.  We’ll come back to that shortly.

Last Monday, in his weekly article here at Mad Genius Club, Dave Freer wrote:

Given that the current is running counter to the direction traditional publishing and much of the establishment direction [are taking] … the issue for the working writer … is ‘how best do I survive?’

. . .

The answer to failing appeal is not more failure, any more than the answer to communism’s failure is more communism. Swimming harder against the tide, kicking swimmers going across or down would be futile, exhausting, and make those swimmers ready to drown you.

On the other hand if you are in this situation… you can 1) learn to swim with the current or at least not straight against it … It’s that, or find a rock to cling to. There will be some rocks … But the rock or rocks will be small – and the biggest ‘names’ are going to claim most of the space. 3) Swim across the current. Build yourself an independent brand, try not to alienate too many people in the process. 4) Catch the wind – use Patreon and Indigogo and the likes to find like minds and fund you to push you against the current.

I was pleased to see that Dave’s also aware of the “sea change” we’re currently experiencing.  It makes me feel less out on a limb, if you know what I mean!  Thanks, Dave.

Let me provide a few more examples of the “sea change” that’s washing up against authors’ shores right now.  The first comes from the music industry, where “Gold Records [are] a Thing of the Past as Streaming Is Now 51% of All Sales, Passing CDs and Downloads“.

Streaming from Spotify, Apple, Pandora, even Tidal now accounts for 51% of all music sales according to the RIAA.

The gold record? A thing of the past. There is nothing to frame for the walls of rock stars. Maybe you get a digital wall now, too. In a virtual mansion.

. . .

There are 22.6 million paid streaming subscriptions. (This means everyone else is listening to ads.)

But the bads news is for the artists. Royalties on streaming sales are much lower than downloads or CDs. The artist is suffering. The execs are not. So the Industry is happy.

Note that bit about streaming services and royalties.  It’s already affecting authors like us, as we’ll discuss shortly.

Next, Captain Capitalism points out that “You Will No Longer Be Able to Make a Living Off of YouTube or Amazon Affiliate“.

Last week the content creator community of YouTube went into full sperg mode when they found out YouTube was demonetizing their videos, among other things such as throttling traffic, taking away subscribers, and other behind the scenes digital media hanky panky. Amazon affiliates were also treated to similar news as they heard Amazon was lowering the commission they’d make from around 6% to 2-5% on various products. But regardless of which company was doing what, the result was the same – it was increasingly harder, if not impossible, for people to make a living on YouTube or Amazon affiliate.

. . .

But as bad news as this is for the thousands, likely, millions of people who derive some kind of income from this new economy, there’s some vital economic lessons to learn from this “YouTube/Amazon” bubble bursting. Because if you don’t learn these vital economic lessons, you’re life is going to be infinitely worse going forward.

First, understand the days of making a living on YouTube or Amazon’s affiliate program was a bubble. Just like the Bakken oil field, just like the gold rush of 1849, just like the Dotcom bubble, there was the boom and then the bust. The good days are OVER. You may not like this fact, but it’s reality. This new digital economy is not immune to the natural forces and laws of economics that all of human history has been subjected to, so you must come to grips with reality and accept this.

. . .

Amazon, and especially YouTube, are responding to changes in the economy so that they may (in YouTube’s case) remain profitable and thus in business. Matter of fact, if you bothered to look at their income statements (they are available) both YouTube and Amazon operate on negative/razor thin margins. In other words, this current business model was not sustainable.

. . .

… since YouTube and Amazon are monopolies they can literally do whatever they want because you have no other option. The real issue is whether you’re going to accept this and realize it.

You can protest, argue, write letters, and make all the videos in the world, but none of that changes the fact YouTube and Amazon have all the power in this relationship. And if you don’t realize that, you’re going to waste more time trying to change the inevitable, which is wasting precious time, energy, and resources you don’t have.

Captain Capitalism points out an uncomfortable truth, which many of us have been reluctant to accept.  Whether we like it or not, Amazon is effectively a monopoly.  Oh, yes, I know it doesn’t fit the traditional definition of a monopoly, and if an effective challenger came along tomorrow, it could conceivably be dethroned;  but the simple fact remains that today, and for the foreseeable future, it’s the only game in town for independent authors.  All – and I do mean all – other outlets for our work, combined, pale into insignificance compared to Amazon.com.  That’s reality.

Amazon has just exercised the power of its position to reduce – sometimes drastically – the income that its Amazon Associates partners earn by referring customers to its products.  It did so because it’s so big, so powerful, with so many Associates, that it can do so without fear of the consequences.  It’s effectively saying to its Associates, “We want to keep more of the profit from each sale for ourselves.  Take it or leave it.  If you don’t like it, there’s the door. Don’t let it hit you where the good Lord split you.”

If anyone thinks that Amazon won’t do the same to independent authors like us, one of these days, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn, NYC that I’d like to sell you.  Cash only, please, and in small bills.  I have little doubt that in the fullness of time, our payouts from Amazon are going to decrease.  We’ve grown accustomed to 70% royalties in the KDP Select program, whereas authors contracted to Amazon’s own publishing imprints make 35%.  I expect first a reduction in KDP Select payouts, probably to 50%, and possibly, in due course, equalization with Amazon’s imprints at 35% across the board.  I hope – oh, how I hope! – that I’m wrong… but I’m pretty confident I’m not.

Amazon has the power, and we have no realistic alternative to Amazon whenever it decides to use that power.  It’s Amazon’s playground, and if we want to play there, we have to play by Amazon’s rules, like it or not.

Not only can we expect a reduction in royalties, there’s also the “double whammy” of more lower-revenue subscription readers and fewer higher-revenue purchase readers – just as the music industry has experienced with listeners who stream, rather than purchase, songs.  An excellent example of this is Amazon’s launch of its Kindle Unlimited subscription library service.  It already appears to have at least 2½ million subscribers, who between them are reading up to 12½ million average-length novels every month.  That’s 12½ million books that are not earning a traditional ‘royalty’ or payout for their authors, but instead a reader ‘fee’ that’s typically half or less than half of what the author would have earned from a sale.

Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that Amazon will keep the payout for KU reads at their present levels.  It can adjust the payout as and when it pleases – and I expect, as it seeks more profit opportunities, it’ll do so at authors’ expense.  KU is already big enough and popular enough to make its own rules, whether or not we like them.  We can register our dislike by not entering our books into the KU program, if we wish – but that also means we have to forgo some of the other benefits of the KDP Select program.  Amazon can make such abstention more difficult (and more costly) in future, simply by changing the rules – which it has every right to do.  It’s Amazon’s playground, remember?

Those music industry figures I referred to above?  More than half of all pop music sales now take the form of music subscription libraries, either paid for by the listener, or funded by advertising.  What makes you think that book sales – particularly fiction – aren’t going to follow the same trend?  We’re not there yet, but every year, we get closer.  Consumers who grow accustomed to free and/or low-cost streaming of music and video media are going to look for the same benefits in their consumption of reading matter, whether we like it or not.  After all, their dollars are spent, not on books, or music, or videos, but on entertainment.  Books are just one element of that, and they have to compete against every other element.  If they’re too expensive by comparison, they’re going to lose.  Why do you think Amazon established KU in the first place?  It knew that, because it listened to its customers.

(Oh – and please don’t try to tell me that I’m being unduly alarmist, and that there’s no evidence Amazon is planning anything of the kind.  I daresay Amazon Associates program members would have said precisely the same thing… right up until last week.  The evidence is as plain as a pikestaff.  Amazon will act in its own interest, and/or the interest of its customers, before it considers our interests.  We aren’t its priority.  Its customers are.  That’s simply the way it is.)

Written Word Media offers some thoughts about KU’s implications for authors like us.

  • The KDP fund just keeps growing. Month over month the KDP fund gets bigger, which means that plenty of readers are actively reading the enrolled titles. If you can sell your book to this audience, then you’ll get a portion of that pot. The growth of KU means it’s here to stay, it’s no longer an experiment.
  • Romance authors benefit greatly from KU. It’s hard to argue with the fact that 88 of the top 100 romance books on the bestseller charts were enrolled in KU. Romance readers are avid, and will gladly read through enough books in a month to make the $9.99 subscription fee worth it.
  • KU readers are incredibly active. KU readers read more books and review books at a higher rate. It’s safe to assume they are more active generally than their Non-KU counterparts.
  • You can use KU enrollment strategically. There is an opportunity to use KU enrollment as a strategy to acquire readers who then purchase your other books. If 77% of KU subscribers go on to purchase books outside of the program, then one reader acquisition strategy is to put some titles in KU, allowing those readers to read them for “free”, and then converting those readers into paying customers on your other titles.

Those are all positives.  The negative – and it’s undoubtedly a negative – is that we’re going to make a lot less money, per book, from subscription readers of our work than we’ll make from buyers of our work.  Remember, too, that we’ll make less from buyers as well, if Amazon’s royalty rates are reduced (as I expect they will be, in time).  We need to begin planning right now for how we’re going to address this “double whammy”, and change our way of offering books to potential customers so as to maximize revenue opportunities.

One way is to play to KU’s strengths.  If we publish longer books, the KU revenue from each ‘rental’ will be higher, per book, than for a shorter book.  On the other hand, if we offer lots more shorter books, we’ll make less money off each one, but make more money through more of them being rented out (provided, that is, we write well enough to make our readers want to rent more of them!).  We can also use our books in the KU program to offer non-KU titles to our readers, in the hope that they’ll click on the links we provide.

There are other options.  We may seek to monetize our blogs or social media accounts in one way or another – but this runs the risk of alienating those who’ve come to regard them as free until now, or who resent the increasing commercialization of everything in sight.  (I’m among those who feel that way, which is why I haven’t monetized my blog at all, and probably won’t.)  We might also look to Patreon and similar services to generate a supplementary income stream from our strongest supporters, as some authors are already doing (for example, N. K. Jemisin or John C. Wright).  Trouble is, we have to have enough enthusiastic followers to make this a viable proposition.

We’re in the middle of a “sea change”, folks.  Whether we like it or not, it’s going to be thrust upon us sooner rather than later.  Are we going to be ready for it?  Are we going to be proactive in preparing for it, and learn to ride the tide of change as it swirls around us?  Or are we going to be like traditional publishers when they first noticed the rise of independent author-publishers like ourselves?  They dismissed us as a passing fad, of no real interest or importance.  We all know how well that worked out for them…

We can no longer count on making a living from independent book sales alone.  We have to contend with the ‘streaming economy’, whether we like it or not.  If we don’t do so right now, before it’s too late, then the ‘streaming economy’ will contend with us.  Depend upon it.

51 Comments

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51 responses to “Writers, take heed: a sea change is under way

  1. Anecdotal evidence to support this column: I published two books on Kindle Direct last Fall, priced at the minimum, one Fantasy and one Post-Apocalyptic SF. Nobody read them. I entered them into Kindle Unlimited in March. I’m getting good reviews which means people are willing to read a free book they wouldn’t spend $0.99 to buy. No, I’m not making any money, but I’m still in the “OMG somebody read my book” stage of authorship so that’s good enough for me, for now. And I understand the tactic of offering the first book free to build loyal readership after which they become paying customers (there’s a reason the crack-dealer business model is successful – it works). So I’m very interested in this topic because if I ever reach the paying-customer stage, I want to exploit it fully. Keep us posted, Peter!

  2. Ugg. Not that I disagree, but my income has been growing every year. I don’t want to take a hit, right when my sales are on the brink of reaching “Annual income from minimum wage job.”

    When Amazon ceases to be a useful outlet . . . which of the current entities will replace it? Or will a new powerhouse arise?

    Meh. My plan is wait and see who wins. If the answer is no one, I guess I’ll get to have a new learning experience.

    • Wait and see is my plan as well. Most of my face-to-face selling is in the print copies, but online – the ebook versions rule.

      Something will turn up. It always does.

      • I figure at worst I’ll have a site for downloads, with a donate button “Like what you read? Then support the author by tossing in five bucks every couple of books or every dozen shorter works.”

        Can’t possibly earn less than zero.

  3. Amazon introduced the 70% royalty option for KDP in 2010. Approximately five minutes later, doomsayers began predicting that they would cut that royalty rate just to screw over authors.

    You know what actually happened? The 70% royalty is still around, and the effective royalty rate is actually higher now. You see, Amazon frequently chooses to discount indie ebooks – but when it does so, it pays the author based on the author’s chosen list price. I have verified this in the case of my own books. When Amazon is offering them at a discount, my royalty may come to 80% of the actual price paid by the customer – or more.

    Furthermore, when one of my books is read on Kindle Unlimited, the per-page rate I receive is pretty closely comparable to the royalty I would receive on an outright sale. This is because my books tend to be on the longer side, and I set reasonable prices for them in the first place and did not try to gouge my readers. Anybody who is selling full-length novels for $2.99 has little to fear from KU borrows cannibalizing sales.

    Yes, Amazon is looking out for its customers above all. What do customers want? Low prices. That cause will not be served by increasing Amazon’s markup over the cost of goods sold, but by decreasing it. Look through all Amazon’s businesses, from book retailing to cloud services, and you’ll see the same phenomenon at work. They are in the price-cutting business, and while they drive hard bargains with their suppliers, they are even more ruthless in cutting their own costs so they can make money on smaller and smaller gross margins.

  4. Andrew

    IIRC Apple introduced the 70% royalty rate…Amazon matched them within a certain value range, but you can bet when the royalty gets lowered to 50% it will be the first seal opening at the beginning of the apocalypse for some people…

  5. One other thing not mentioned is the ‘lack’ of new readers coming into the system. Millennials today don’t read. They rely on sound bites and visual, e.g. games/videos/youtube for their entertainment. The next five years will, I believe, see a drop in overall readership across all spectrums as people age out/die and are not replaced.

    • That’s what they said 20 years ago for the first-wave Millennials. Given something worth reading, it turns out to be false.

      The teenage to early 20 kids are definitely able to read, I’ve seen their stuff on enough video games. They might even be better trained at reading for real content and hints than my generation was, since even “normal” people do video games.

      • I’m not sure what they’re calling the current cohort of older kids and young teens (screwed?) but from my experience, they actively prefer “real” books if they can get them but are perfectly willing to read great e-books (and in my yard-apes’ case, spend her birthday money on) stories they can only get virtually.

        So they game, watch YouTube and whatever the current crunchy-roll equivalent is, read scanlations, webcomics, and e-books, and also enjoy dinosaur media like TV and paper books, etc. if it happens to have the content they want.

        Interesting times for content-producers, no question.

    • Which is why you keep an eye on everything in the entertainment industry.

      The cost and complexity of audio books has come down to the point where it is in the reach of indie authors (still need to get a good handle on the actual demand first). The cost and complexity of animation is on a downward path, too. Although it’s still not cheap – you need someone who has a team with a studio to produce it, which puts it out of the reach of the typical author – you don’t need a Disney or Lucasfilm megacorp to turn a novel into a video series.

      I once saw a variant on that “leadership” poster – you know, the one saying “Where are they? Where did they go? I must find them! I am their leader!” Except the last line was “They are my customers!”

      We have to remember this – the basics have not changed in the writing business. We are the manufacturers, readers/listeners/viewers are our consumers. Everyone in the middle, whether it be Amazon, NYC Big 5 publisher, small press – simply serves to connect manufacturer to consumer, the pipeline operators that form part of the route between the oil well and the gas pump as it were. I think it unlikely, although always possible that Amazon will choke the distribution channel the same way as Big 5 has, by squeezing out manufacturers or “selecting for quality” (read “proper ideology”). I could be wrong, though.

    • Anonymous

      >One other thing not mentioned is the ‘lack’ of new readers coming into the system. Millennials today don’t read. They rely on sound bites and visual, e.g. games/videos/youtube for their entertainment. The next five years will, I believe, see a drop in overall readership across all spectrums as people age out/die and are not replaced.

      Let me make a contrarian point here. Millenials don’t read new garbage. Look: We have blogs, Chatrooms Social Media, VNs and weird ebooks we have plundered from somewhere. Something has to fly out of the window. Fiction that is considered shit is the best candidate for that.

  6. sabrinachase

    While I completely agree writers should not put all their eggs in one basket, and *nobody* should count on a good thing remaining unchanged, the Amazon economics are a bit more complex. There’s a difference between paying people to provide products or services that are then resold (Affiliate program, YouTube, KU) and providing a marketplace for others to provide products and services (KDP, Kobo, etc) and taking a cut. In the first case, cutting costs by cutting the payment given to those who produce the product results in increased revenue. In the second, increased revenue is a delicate balance between increasing the cut (or decreasing the royalty to authors) and increasing the amount of varied product available. People making good product who can’t make a living any more won’t provide as much (or any) product when they quit or have to find another job.

    The Amazon marketplace for non-book products, for example. That’s been around for a while. You can set the price of your product wherever you like. For books, Amazon encourages people to price in the sweet spot by giving more royalties there. If that lever is removed, authors will price higher to suit themselves.

    Sure, Amazon is a monopoly. They have remained very alert to economics, though, and know monopolies aren’t forever *either*. Give enough reason to create a competitor and one will emerge–and there will again be searches done on Amazon, but product bought elsewhere. Think the data bots won’t notice that? Amazon does not want a valid competitor. So they will try to prevent the creation of an ecosystem that will produce one.

  7. Millennials are hungry for books that are decent. The Harry Potter series is an example – okay, not great IMHO, but good enough. My Millennial children (adults) mainly read older books, they’ve been tortured by assigned reading in school and disgusted by most of the mainstream published ‘best-sellers’, so play it safe. Gutenberg and used bookstores don’t get current writers paid, and so I point out it’s important to find and support writers they like. My daughter just bought a Chris Nuttall book on my enthusiastic recommendation, we’ll see how that works.

    If Peter isn’t right about lean times to come, well, what has anyone lost by preparing for them? I personally believe he’s right. Amazon has spent a lot of time and effort becoming the big fish, and will start taking more advantage of that status. Even 35% royalties are much better than the Big 5 publishers will give, so Amazon would still be the best option to go with.

    Nothing lasts forever, and institutions come and go with increasing frequency nowadays. As Mr. Freer and Mr. Grant advocate, keep a weather eye out for storms, reefs and rogue waves.

    • Holly

      My kids are younger. They and their friends don’t have ebook access. I don’t know if this is a regional thing, a home school thing, or some combination of both. But think about it: a device that accesses ebooks a) is linked to a parent’s credit card, and b) can access all the internet. For every teen with a smartphone I know, I know one without. Those who do have smartphones aren’t allowed any pay for things on them.
      So mine like to read, but no ebooks, and no mushy stuff. Harry Potter was great until he got a crush. They finished the series, but agree it would have been much improved by no romance, or very light romance. Have Spacesuit Will Travel is more their style. So older books, a few selected newer authors (thanks Pam and Dave).
      Our society is so sexualized the fourteen year old without a love interest is an endangered species in books.

      • TRX

        Hmphf. I don’t think any of Andre Norton’s classic SF had any romantic subplots. At least, I can’t remember any offhand. I have no idea about her later fantasy stuff.

        • snelson134

          The Witch World books did. Low key, but by the end of the first one, the hero and heroine are married, and the rest of the series involved them as a couple or their children.

      • Blume

        The kindle unlimited program is actually a great solution for this. Since it’s a flat fee the parents wouldn’t have to worry about extra charges. Also overdrive allows people with library cards to check out free ebooks and audio books.

        • Holly

          KU’s a flat fee, yes, but Amazon has the card number, stored in the system, and available for use. I do know a guy who did exactly that, put his then seven year old daughter on KU. $300+ later (smart kid: delivery truck came while Mom and new baby sis were napping, girl smuggled the boxes in, Daddy caught it when he looked at his credit card statement), the kindle went to the dump. I remember he was out over $300 because she bought things like makeup that couldn’t be returned after she’d opened them.
          Don’t underestimate kids’ ingenuity: if you do, you’ll be the one paying.

  8. l

    I don’t know how to contend with a streaming economy.

  9. amiegibbons15

    Oh come on. Old people always say that. (Don’t tell me you’re not old, it’s in your name 🙂

    We read. You can probably guess I read more than most since I’m an author, but just because “everyone” says millennials don’t read, doesn’t mean it’s true. We’ve seen blockbuster books selling millions now, just like they did 20 years ago. And a lot of these books that go huge are YA. Because those are books that appeal to that large reading demographic of teens, and their parents.
    I think it’s the same old song. “Young people these days don’t read” means “they don’t read what I like/think is good.”
    Now, you’ll always have the people who only read one or two blockbusters a year, but that’s every generation.

    I’m going off on a tangent, but it feeds into the overall point. The market is still there, it’s just changing.
    Just like people weren’t buying less books, they were just buying ebooks instead, now people aren’t reading less, just in different ways. And tastes change over the years.

    Now, we just have to figure out what the next thing will be because I’m afraid Peter’s right. So guesses?
    I’m thinking multiple streaming services like KU.
    And if none of that makes sense, I’m only on my first cup of coffee 🙂

    • Amazon’s infrastructure is their big advantage. No, not the warehouses and delivery contracts, but Amazon Web Services, which now provides 51% of Amazon’s revenue. It’s about 40% of the Cloud Services market. They’ve chased both CenturyLink and Verizon out of that business; they’re selling their cloud services and focusing on network services. They also chased RackSpace out of the public web services market. First they sold themselves, and now they’ve switched to providing Managed Services to AWS. (That usually means watching for alarms, changing configs, working trouble tickets, and dispatching warm bodies when needed.)
      Amazon Web Services is bigger than cloud services for Microsoft, IBM, and Google COMBINED.

      That doesn’t mean that nobody can start another platform. But it may be that Amazon will host whatever springs up. If you watch Netflix instead of Amazon Streaming Video, Amazon still gets a taste, because the Netflix content is hosted on Amazon Web Services (though they do use a Content Delivery Network in the middle.) Amazon has more than one way to be the 900 pound gorilla in the room.

      • TRX

        Having been both a CenturyLink and Verizon vic…customer, the possibility of staking my business on their technical competence is zero. With frost on it.

        It’s not real unless it’s on your own local storage *and* with verified off-site backup.

      • snelson134

        Their underlying infrastructure is built by Oracle….. who would be most happy to put together a similar setup in Oracle’s cloud services.

      • Draven

        Heck, Amazon *bought* one of the major render controller software publishers.

  10. My solution is to not put myself entirely at Amazon’s mercy by enrolling in Select/KU. My books are wide, and while I’m not getting the big bucks that some people have been getting from KU (while others have been seeing their page reads mysteriously disappearing or even getting their accounts shut down as part of the fallout from dealing with the many scammers taking advantage of KU), I’ve been steadily doing better in the other stores. In March, I sold as much on both iTunes and Smashwords (each store, not combined) as on Amazon. Internationally, Kobo is as big, or almost as big, as Amazon. It takes time and patience and promotion to get traction on the other stores, but that’s the best insurance against Amazon’s whims, I think.

    Another way to protect yourself against the ups and downs of Amazon and the other stores is to set up to sell your books yourself. There are services like Gumroad and Payhip that are affordable and make it easy. I want to do this, but at the moment, the state sales tax and city business licensing required where I live is more complicated and expensive than I want to deal with.

  11. One of the responses to streaming audio and so forth by bands has been the increasing popularity of…

    … the vinyl record.

    Turns out there is a market for top-notch analog recordings. Tube amps. Granite platter turntables. All that stuff is still out there, still going, and growing in popularity. Because when you have nice music, you want to hear it on something better than a shitty iPhone.

    At some point, books are the same. Did not the great and powerful International Lord of Hate just release leather bound versions of the MHI series?

    I’m not going to pretend that the forces of Amazon are not as describe in the posting. Clearly, that’s all right on target. Amazon can be counted upon to behave as all other monopolies do: abusively. Such behavior is as predictable as gravity.

    But, as we are seeing with air travel, monopolies are not a stable thing. A monopoly -will- fall, by its own hand usually. See United Airlines.

    Authors are not in a position to take the risks inherent in physically printing and distributing their own work. But, thanks to the Interwebz, we ARE in the position of distributing our own work electronically and billing for it too. Weebly.com is an example of a very cheap website builder with billing. I’ve used it, it works. MailChimp manages mailing lists, etc. You can do it solo. I’ve done another business that way, as adjunct to brick and mortar.

    So, I can see something like a clearinghouse for reviews growing up rather quickly should Amazon make it impossible to get paid for writing. Right now, Amazon is the 500lb gorilla. Later, after they start screwing us all over, customers and authors alike? We’ll see.

    Something else to consider, robots. Writing part-time and waiting tables of doing landscaping is a thing right now. The full-time writer is a vanishing beast. But, what happens when that waiter job is gone? The landscape job is a robot?

    Maybe getting tooled up to do something a computer can’t do isn’t the worst idea ever, eh?

    • TRX

      Apparently WordPress ate my reply from yesterday…

      I think most fo the vinyl buyers would be just as happy with a CD or thumbdrive in the package. They can get the music anywhere; what they’re buying is the *package*. The large-format cover art, the foldouts, the posters, the slide rules, the jacket notes… all the things that you can get with an LP, vs. the ridiculous plastic “jewel case” CD package, or nothing at all for an mp3.

      • In at least a significant number of cases, vinyl buyers would not be happy with anything but vinyl. It is vinyl that is the mark of the Cool Kid, the Hipster, the Audiophile. These people witter on (entirely without knowledge) as to the alleged superiority of analogue over digital recording, and the alleged superiority of vinyl over any other analogue medium. For such people, vinyl is not a way of buying music, but a fashion statement. (But then again, a lot of music is and always has been bought to make a fashion statement.)

    • TRX

      see also: Larry Correia’s leatherbound MHI books. His readers can download the files to their Kindles from Amazon, but the ones who buy the books want the package, not the text. It’s likely they already *have* the text online or in paperback; yet another copy isn’t going to make their “reader experience” any better.

  12. Gary Snodgrass

    When I first Indie Published in 2014 I was told to go wide. Don’t do KU, you couldn’t trust Amazon and they would pull the rug from under us. If I had listened to that advice, I would be 6 figures poorer.

    Like all things in business. Of course things are going to change. When haven’t they in the last 10 years?
    Let’s see –
    – Don’t be a writer. No one can make a living just being a writer. You have to have a day job to support your writing habit.
    – Don’t go Indie, you will never make money.
    – Don’t go Ebook. People will never give up their paper books.
    – Don’t do Ku, it will never last.
    Amazon might very well change the rules. That just means I have to remain flexible and adjust as necessary. Again, just like any other business.

  13. Smashwords appears to say they distribute to iBookstore…is this different from iTunes?

    • The iTunes store for books used to be called iBookstore in the late Bronze Age, when Smashwords last did a thorough update of their website.

  14. Even if you’re right (which I don’t doubt), I can’t change. Not won’t – can’t. There are a few of us old/disabled writers whose only hope is to go viral – the way viral really works: accidentally.

    We can’t write faster, or spend more time marketing, or do any of the things ‘everyone’ says you have to do.

    Meanwhile, we hope to be writing works of such quality that quantity won’t matter – but that is up to time to tell. We keep an eye on the market, regardless of whether any trend will bring us to the forefront, for general awareness. And go about our business, with what energy we have.

    Nimbleness is not in our skill set.

    Thank goodness we love to write.

    • TRX

      Not everyone can be everything.

      Sometimes you establish the limits of what it’s practical for you to do and slog forward.

  15. I’m eventually going to go wide, when I start a new series. For now, I’m keeping a weather eye on things, and have already set up a direct-pay account through Gumroad, which would let people buy from my blog and eventually my website. HOWEVER, that requires sorting out some zoning* and tax things that I’ve not taken time to deal with (I had great plans for last summer. The Year of the Dentist took care of those plans.)

    *Zoning you ask? I’ve gotten mixed signals on whether selling e-books from a computer in a home office is a violation of local zoning regs. It would not be a big thing, but I’ve read accounts of people who ended up with fines for doing just that. Not in Texas, but still.

  16. lampwright

    I have been really aware that Amazon is a monopoly…and that, at any moment, they could change their policies to make Indie publishing difficult or impossible.

    The best possible thing that could happen would be if Amazon got a serious competitor, but currently…not on the radar.

  17. One point that I haven’t seen anyone make yet is this: KU may only pay the author about half (or less?) of what the author would make if the same book sold, but if four times as many people *read* the book on KU (or ten times as many, or more, which IMO is likely the case), then the author has still made at least twice as much as they would have if they’d been depending on sales only. Personally, I can only buy a few books each month (and that is dependent on income and budget — there have been times when I was doing well to be able to afford one book a month from the library book sale, where paperbacks are only fifty cents). But I have KU, and with that, I read at least thirty books a month (and probably a lot more most months, though I haven’t kept track) — those authors are getting money from my reading that they would not have gotten if I’d had to buy their books in order to read them. And a FEW of those authors have turned out to be so good that I am now buying their books as quickly as I can afford them.

    Yes, I’ve read a lot of dreck (though I’m getting faster at shutting a book down if it turns out to be dreck in the first few pages). But there are some really good books in KU, and those are making buyers out of their readers. So IMO, KU is well worth it for the author from both angles — they get more money up front because more people read their books through KU than would buy them; and if they are doing a good job, they also get new buyers.

    • This is a very good point, that KU gets people to try new authors. And it is especially good for attracting prolific readers, the ones we all love and cherish. Freeholder45 isn’t the first person I’ve heard of who tries a book first on KU, then returns to buy the ones she likes.

      Most of us who only publish ebooks should be supportive of anything that gets our books out where they might be seen and tried. Being an unknown is the biggest handicap when trying to make a living

    • TRX

      Yes, but there are a lot of people who would prefer to have 100% of $1 instead of 20% of $10.

      They don’t see “twice as much money in my pocket.” They see “all the other money I didn’t get.”

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  19. adventuresfantastic

    c4c

  20. Draven

    The citation of the music industry examples is missing, either in the original article or in your reading of it, bits of important data…

    For many indie artists, their income has not changed with the shift to streaming services. in some cases, it has actually increased gradually.

    Why? Because many if not most of the people ‘paying for music’ through either ads or paid subscription services would not have bought the music beforehand. Yes, piracy of music was that rampant and as a DJ on Second Life i would get endless sh** from patrons because i prefer to pay for my music. A percentage of streaming is an improvement over a percentage of *nothing*.

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