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Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Indie Author files: The State of Play

Have you noticed how nobody - and I mean nobody - talks about Borders bookstores anymore? Have you noticed how little press Barnes & Noble has got about their plans to sell off their Nook business? It's freaking eerie.

Here's how the fiction food chain used to flow: Writers wrote 'x' and tried like hell to get an agent. Agents tried like hell to get an editor to look at 'x'. Editors who like 'x' tried like hell to get their publishing company to buy 'x'. (Here's where things got a little bit wonky) Publishers tried to only buy 'x' if they thought it was going to be a smash hit (Snooki anyone?), but grudgingly published things they thought would at least do decently. Then they sold all their 'x' to bookstores, mostly bookstore chains. (Here's where things really went off the rails) Bookstores, especially chains,  started selling their premium floor space to publishers, who were pushing the 'x' they thought would do really well, or that they'd paid a stupid amount of money for and needed badly to make their money back on. Bookstore chains didn't care; one book was much like any other, and it was all about margins. It was all just 'units' and 'product' (which is why Borders in its waning days was selling things like designer spatulas).

Turns out readers like what they like, not what publishers want them to like. Turns out readers stopped putting up with chain stores not having what they wanted, and stopped accepting increasingly long waits for special orders. Why? Because readers were, and increasingly are, able to download what they wanted in seconds rather than waiting for, on average, weeks to get their 'special' orders in. And usually they can get it cheaper.

No bookstore can carry every title. Borders stopped even trying to go the extra mile for their customers. Borders, it must be said, deserved its fate.

Barnes & Noble is next.

Borders sold away its digital future to Amazon, then tried far, far too late to replace it by partnering with Kobo. B&N wasn't quite as short-sighted. They got the Nook up and running, and are essentially preparing to enter a metamorphosis stage. If B&N brick and mortar stores are still open in five years, I'll buy you a donut.

In five years. No B&N, no Borders. Book stores will be specialty stores and second hand shops, not chains. Them's the breaks. Who do the publishers, great and small, sell 'x' to then?

To digital content purveyors, that's who. Amazon and Apple.


So what, increasingly, does the fiction food chain look like today? Like this:

Writers write 'x' and publish it directly on a digital platform such as Kindle Direct Publishing, Apple, or Smashwords. Control, be it creative, business or editorial, is almost entirely in their hands (for good or ill). It is available for purchase within days at most. It sinks or swims on its own merit, of course, but per unit, the writer will receive a greater percentage of each sale than they ever would have with a traditional publishing contract. And every day the potential audience grows as people buy kindles or nooks or iPads or kobos in the millions.

But of course the devil is in the details. More about that another day.


Deborah Walker said...

I wasn't that interested in writing a novel until this revolution. I'd heard too many horror stories. I was quite happy writing shorts.

But now. Everything has changed.

Aaron Polson said...

Honestly, I didn't expect the death of print so soon.

And yes--I know print isn't dead. I don't think it will be dead-dead for a long time. But the game has changed and it isn't going back.

Michael McClung said...

Deborah- it really has, and still is. I don't think most people understand how historic a change is happening as we speak. Now is the time to take a chance and try new stuff.

Aaron- it's really hard and a bit scary for most people to look at this shift objectively. They're too invested in one outcome or another. Some are rushing ahead while others will need to be dragged, kicking and screaming. I'm trying very hard to remain objective, to figure out the most likely outcome, and plan accordingly. I love bookstores and paper books. I love getting read more.

Sara Flower said...

It is so crazy how quickly things are changing. I love print books, but I don't feel the least bit sorry for those publishers or the big bookstores. It was high time for a change.

It's great how writers can, at last, easily and affordably publish their own works and potentially make far more than if they slaved away trying to please an agent.

robertallen said...
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