Bad, indie writer, bad!

At least that is what Michael Kozlowski over at Good Ereader seems to be saying. In an article I found via The Passive Voice, the headline really does tell the story. “Indie Authors Are Responsible for the US eBook Decline.” Now, I won’t talk about how the headline is poorly formatted. Anyone with a modicum of journalistic training will be able to spot what is wrong. Instead, let’s take a look at the post and see if we agree with Kozlowski or with PG who said, “too much choice is a terrible problem. That’s why nobody buys anything from Amazon or reads anything on the web.”

Why are bookstore chains like Barnes and Noble enjoying a robust increase in book sales? I think the main reason is because they only stock physical books by new authors that the publisher is really hyping and perennial bestsellers by recognizable authors. Simply put, it is far easier to discover a great book in a bookstore, than try and find one online. So why are digital sales truly down? The answer is too many e-books being self-published by indie authors.

Pardon me while I laugh for a bit. Kozlowski doesn’t seem to recognize the problem with his own statement. Bookstores stock only new authors publishers are “really hyping”. Hmm. What about those new authors who aren’t receiving all the hype? They are out there. Or is Kozlowski so out of touch that he really believes that publishers give that sort of hype to every new author they sign?

Or how about the assertion that they only other books being stocked are those by perennial bestsellers? I guess that means I could walk into my local B&N and check every author in stock and find them to be as he said. A best seller or hyped newcomer. Sorry, but no. There are still some midlisters there. Yes, the number is fewer but they are still there. There will also be — gasp — classics and nonfiction titles that aren’t “bestsellers”. But that wouldn’t fit Kozlowski’s either or scenario.

Independent and self-published authors release more books on a monthly basis than the trade houses do. This creates an influx of new titles that fall by the wayside and pollute the search engine results,  so it is almost impossible to casually browse and find something good.

My first reaction is, “Duh!” Of course indies release more books on a monthly basis that the traditional publishers. They aren’t limited by the number of slots they can justify to their bean counters. They aren’t having to go through gatekeepers who could — and sometimes do — keep out excellent books because they “didn’t resonate” or aren’t of the right “message” for that particular publisher. But, just because they are indie titles, they “pollute” search engine results. Bad indies. You aren’t pure and worthy. Forget about issues of whether the books are well-written or commercial successes. The fact they didn’t go through the traditional gatekeepers means they are dreck and pollute the very data streams they are stored on.

E-Books are immortal, so they never go out of print. Like cobwebs constructed of stainless steel, they will forever occupy the virtual shelves of e-book retailers. Every month there are more and more books for readers to choose from and there are now fewer eyeballs split across more books, this is the real reason why e-book sales are down across the board.

First, e-books can go out of print. At least they can if an author is careful about how her contract is written with first her agent and then her publisher — if she goes the traditional route. As for indies, they can also go “out of print” by the simple expedient of the author withdrawing the book from sale. As for e-book sales being down across the board, says who? Oh, I know. Traditional publishers. And that, my friends, is the real fault with everything Kozlowski says in his post. He is using traditional publishing numbers, as well as comments from Amazon competitor Mark Coker, to support his position without looking at indie sales numbers.

But let’s continue.

Not only do self-published authors write legitimate books that nobody reads, but some are doing some very shady things.

Kozlowski goes on to discuss the title mills that have been out there as well as the debacle a couple of years ago over the erotica titles getting released as children’s titles. Funny though, he never mentions the plagiarized titles that were bought, published and promoted out the yahzoo by traditional publishers. I guess he doesn’t think the trads can ever do anything wrong or make a bad decision about what books to publish. Nor does he go into the fact that a lot of the books Kobo removed from its listings were not erotica and the covers did not violate the ToS. Funny that. Funny, too, that he failed to mention how those books wrongly removed were put into a limbo that, as far as I know, has yet to be resolved.

He shows his feelings about indie e-books, if there had been any doubt, with this next statement: Spamming out e-books is obviously working for indie authors right now.

“Spamming”. Not publishing, not releasing, but spamming. Way to show some unbiased reporting, sir.

The big reason why indies are enjoying more success right now is because their titles are priced anywhere between .99 and $5.99, while major publishers tend to charge between $9.99 and $18.99. 

Again, he sees only the financial reason and that not in full. Yes, indies sell more books at a lower price. However, readers have gotten more savvy, something he fails to recognize. They look at how well written the blurb is. If you don’t grab a reader with the blurb, they aren’t going to pay money for your work. Then the reader checks the preview — one of the best things Amazon and other retailers have done is put the “look inside feature” on the product page so you no longer have to download a sample. Again, if a reader doesn’t like what the preview shows, they won’t buy the book. Yes, there are some impulse buys but give the reader some credit for actually checking out the book before buying it.

Second, readers are learning that there are a lot of very well written, entertaining books being produced by indie authors. Why spend more than $10 for a single book when you can buy two or three for that same amount of money? Publishers put themselves behind the eight ball when it comes to pricing. They look at the profit per unit instead of the fact they would make more money in the long run if they would lower their prices and increase their sales.

I think indie authors days are numbered selling digital content online because of big new trends in the publishing industry that they are unable to capitalize on.

This is where I start laughing hysterically. First, he uses adult coloring books as an example of something indies can’t do. Funny, one of my friends and cohorts over at Mad Genius Club, Cedar Sanderson, just published her own coloring book — and she did so as an indie. I guess she ought to go take it off sale since Kozlowski said she shouldn’t be able to put one out.

Then he goes on to point out the Bookscan numbers and how they prove his point. Bookscan, the Nielson Ratings for books. That service taking the sales from a select number of bookstores, does some arcane version of hand-wavium and tells publishers how many books were sold by what author. Not a point-to-point accounting system or inventory tracker like every other manufacturer employs. No, something that estimates sales based on what is selling in certain stores in certain cities across the nation. C0ff — bullshit — coff.

He goes on and on about how indie publishing is leading to a decline in sales. But for whom? For traditional publishing? Yep. But it is not only indie publishing responsible for that decline. It is also the choice in books being published by the trads and the price they are charging. Traditional publishing knows this, at least when it comes to pricing. Ask yourself this: why publish an e-book at basically the same price as a print version of the same book? The answer is simple — to drive sales to the print book.

Is indie publishing in trouble? Not that my bank account is seeing.

Are there too many titles out there? I don’t think so. Sure, it makes “browsing” more difficult if all you do is type in search phrases. But if you are like me, you find a book or an author you like and you pay attention to the “if you liked this, you might like that” recommendations. You talk to your friends and see what they are reading. Most of all, you check the blurbs and previews. Now this indie author needs to get back to work. Despite — or maybe because — of Kozlowski’s complaints, I am going to continue “spamming” out my books and “polluting” Amazon.

So, here’s some spamming for you:

 Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3)

War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.

Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.

And my friend Dave Freer has a new book out.
TOM

Tom is a cat in trouble. The worst possible kind of trouble: he’s been turned into a human. Transformed by an irascible old magician in need of a famulus — a servant and an assistant, Tom is as good at being a servant as a cat ever is. The assistant part is more to Tom’s taste: he rather fancies impressing the girl cats and terrorizing the other toms by transforming himself into a tiger. But the world of magic, a vanished and cursed princess, and a haunted skull, and a demon in the chamber-pot, to say nothing of conspiring wizards and the wickedest witch in the west, all seem to be out to kill Tom. He is a cat coming to terms with being a boy, dealing with all this. He has a raven and a cheese as… sort of allies.
And of course there is the princess.
If you were looking for ‘War and Peace’ this is the wrong book for you. It’s a light-hearted and gently satirical fantasy, full of terrible puns and… cats.

31 Comments

  1. I guess she ought to go take it off sale since Kozlowski said she shouldn’t be able to put one out.

    What’s the saying? “Person saying something is impossible should not interrupt the person doing it.”

    And gee, seems I’ve been buying/reading a fair amount of indie ebooks for a while now. While I am not a writer or publisher, nor a financial or economic analyst, I think I can conclude in reasonable safety that indie ebook profitability is not sinking below the waves. Why? The authors I read and read about aren’t saying, “Sorry, this isn’t making money. Gonna go do something else.” So simple even ox understand it. But maybe some not as smart as ox?

    1. But, but, but… Funny how those who complain about indie publishing never seem to catch onto that. Those who try indie and don’t get any traction with their work will eventually either give up or go back to trying to break into traditional publishing. The rest of us look at our numbers, see them growing — sometimes slowly and sometimes much quicker — and we keep going. Why? Because we are writing the books we like to read, books that weren’t getting published by most traditional publishers and those few who do put out similar books can’t put out enough to feed our reading habit.

  2. “They aren’t having to go through gatekeepers who could — and sometimes do — keep out excellent books because they “didn’t resonate” or aren’t of the right “message” for that particular publisher.”

    Or like what my sister and I we just told: (our book) “wouldn’t be a commercial success for us”. So much for welcoming new writers. _snort_ That comment chaffed me as much as the “new writers have to be outstanding” line, as if established writers can slack off once they get signed. Oh they were honest, to a fault. I know you’re in it for money – for you – Mr. Publisher. I don’t need it rubbed in my face. I was far less perturbed by the polite “Does not fit our needs at this time” on the first rejection. Okay, mini rant over. 😉

    1. Gah, what does the publisher have, a crystal ball? No, what they have have is a bean counter somewhere, telling them that only books of a certain sort will sell well and they need not contract for anything else from new writers. This is the same sort of thinking we saw during the 50 Shades of Grey period. Publishers pulled entire lines to redo covers that would make readers think they were like 50 Shades. The problem? Books tanked because the covers were so close to one another that readers thought they had already read the book. Another example is all the bad versions of Da Vinci Code that came out. Oh, they had different titles but they were basically nothing but a retelling of a book that wasn’t so great on its own. How many of those books earned out? I’d wager very few.

      Keep trying and give some serious thought to what is the best path for you and your sister. Whether that is to continue submitting to traditional publishers, small presses or go indie, do what feels right.

  3. My bank account is showing a decline…but I haven’t published anything in over a year now, so that’s a huge part of it. If I could get focused and publish something, that would change. :/

    However, I’m really getting sick of the publishing apologists trying to use anything and everything to declare indie dead.

    I wonder if this happens with music and film too.

    1. Tom, do we need to deploy the pointy boots? Seriously, I have found that I need a new title out every quarter, or even more frequently, to keep the dip from being too great. I also saw a pick up in income once I had 10 novels out. Now, finding the time when real life is beating at the door can be challenging.

  4. What’s in a name? Kozlowski comes from “Kozol” means “goat”… 😉

    /Yes, I know, I know, it’s a metonymic name for somebody with a beard, just like Kozlov or Kosloff in Russian…

  5. They look at the profit per unit instead of the fact they would make more money in the long run if they would lower their prices and increase their sales.

    Someone needs to introduce them to basic economics. “Price elasticity of demand”. This, basically, is a concept that, starting at a low price, if you increase price you make more money as the price per unit goes up faster than the number of units sold goes down. But as you increase the price further, volume starts falling off faster, until at a certain point increasing the price does not lead to an increase in revenue. And, past that, further increases in price lead to falling total revenue because fewer and fewer people will buy at that price point.

    1. There you go, using logic and economics. You ought to know better, David. VBEG. Honestly, the whole argument that they have to raise prices to make more money has always baffled me. Do they really think we are so foolish as to believe that line of tripe? How long will they continue to say that when authors start speaking out, telling how they have been dropped by houses because they “aren’t selling enough e-books” at the artificially high prices?

  6. Sooo… I should take down my Amazon #1 best seller in short stories because I’m an indie author and am ONLY charging $.99 for it, therefore it’s spam??? ‘Taint spam to my bank account, thank you very much!

  7. “Why are bookstore chains like Barnes and Noble enjoying a robust increase in book sales? ”

    Adult coloring books. If he doesn’t know that already……

    1. They are? This is news to someone who not long ago went into his “local” B&N and wondered what happened to all the books. Yes, they still had some, but it was clear that an Executive Decision had been made to make it a Not Really A Book Store.

      1. It is also probably news to the new head of B&N who, upon being named to take over, said he wanted to make the stores into “lifestyle” stores and not just bookstores. Somehow, if book sales were as strong as Kozlowski said, I doubt B&N would be moving even further away from what used to be their core business.

    1. I know. I have fisked his posts before because he is so clearly a fan, with a capital F, of traditional publishing and usually has little good to say about indie and small press publishing.

  8. If you read the full piece, he goes on for a bit about Kindle Unlimited payments. Thing is, his example uses the old payment format an is impossible under the new method of paying per KENP read. That’s hardly a new development in indie publishing and understanding how it works is pretty damned important for any indie author. This is but one example of his ignorance and something he can’t just wave off as irrelevant.

    I must admit, I find all of the scrambling the Big 5 and their lackeys are doing to dismiss us is rather heartwarming. After all, no one spends this much time and energy on a foe who doesn’t have them running scared.

    1. I read the piece but, by the time I got to that, I was to the point of either throwing the laptop against the wall or writing a major piece, both of which would have taken away from my fiction writing. After all, I have to do my duty and pollute Amazon with more spam. VBEG.

      I agree with you. They are scared, and they should be. But instead of spending so much time and effort trying to throw dirt our way, they should be looking at their own business models and at what people are buying on Amazon and the other online stores. There is a reason why indie publishing has taken off the way it has and a large part of that is because we offer stories people want to read. Stories the Big 5 aren’t giving them. Not that they will ever admit it.

  9. LOL, is this guy serious? I mean, really? I’m not an author, but I read extensively – and what do I read these days? Yep, works by Indie authors on my kindle. Why? Price factors in for sure (I’d be lying if it didn’t) – I can pick up several books, sometimes for UNDER $10.00 and oh, my goodness….BARGAIN (ok, yeah, I love bargains and I’m not alone this either). Its like all my Christmases and birthdays come all at once – can you tell I love reading yet? But the real catch is, that more often than not, I choose Indie authors because their stories are often BETTER than well known published, paper-back/hard-cover writers, so there Mr K what’s-his-name. Seriously, Amanda, publishers should be worried, really worried. People aren’t stupid – they will choose authors who write well and if that’s an Indie writer, well, so what? All the best for your next book about Ashe and you know I will buy it 😀

    1. Thanks, Catherine. As for Kozlowski and those like him, they need to take a look at the latest Author Earnings Report. I’m linking to it in today’s blog and will be doing an in-depth post on it later (I have an appointment in a couple of hours that prevents me doing it this morning). The evidence is clear that indies are doing something right, something trads aren’t.

  10. This is what I call a “retreat tantrum.” The guy has chosen the losing side in an evolutionary conflict, and is screaming that the other side can’t win even as the other side is handing him his ass in chunks. The article is about feels, not thinks. I figured that out within five sentences.

    Others have pointed out that he knows little about publishing, and what he claims to know is years out of date. I won’t repeat any of that.

    I will say that my books are doing well, even though I’m nostrils-deep in moving and selling a house and can’t devote much time to promotion or even new writing. I’ve grossed well into five figures since last July, granting that not all of that is SFF. (I self-publish a few other things unrelated to SFF.) 36% of my Kindle revenues are from KU. That’s the change in publishing that I remain most impressed by. Thanks to KU, the incremental cost of trying a new indie author is now basically zero. Everybody wins…but we indies win most of all.

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