Consulting My Crystal Ball   5 comments

The topic today is — How changes in the industry, in technology or in the tools (social media, blogging, etc.) will affect your ability to earn a living or make your mark as a writer?

I admit, I don’t think a lot about that and I don’t worry much about it because I have a job that pays my bills. When the books make money, it goes to helping them make more money. Someday I hope to make enough to add that profit to my retirement accounts, but I’m not there yet.

This was, then, a hard topic to address because I hadn’t done it before. But I did it. You can join us if the topic appeals.

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I think fortune telling’s big downfall is that you are probably wrong. The weather man? Wrong … 60% of the time. I can predict with fair certainty that it will be cold in December in Alaska, but what will the indie world hand me in 2016 …?

I’m certain indie authors are the future of publishing. We’re a growing trend and I’m not the only prognosticator who sees green lights for the future, but I’m also convince that the decisions we make today will continue to reshape the future of publishing. We have the power to make our future a great one or a nightmare.

According to Mark Coker, it’s difficult to determine the percentage of the ebook market now controlled by indie authors. Retailers supposedly know, but they aren’t necessarily telling and their statistics vary dramatically. In terms of unit sales, indie authors probably control 15-20% of the ebook market. Because indie ebooks are priced significantly lower than traditionally published ebooks, the dollar market share is probably in the 4-8% range.

Before you panic, follow my logic here. Getting readers to read books is what matters most in the long run. Readership builds author brand and reader trust, and reader purchases flow to trusted authors. Every year readers are spending more hours reading books from indie authors. Reader eyeballs will continue to transition to indie ebooks in 2016. So, it’s probably a safe bet to say that the indie market will continue to grow in terms of unit sales and actual market share for the foreseeable future 

Compared to traditionally published ebook authors, indie ebooks are much more competitive. Indies with ebooks enjoy full distribution to retail and library sales; faster time to market; greater creative control; marketing and promotion flexibility; 4-5 times higher ebook royalties; and the ability to price dramatically lower. Most indies are pricing between $2.99 and $3.99, whereas most traditional publishers are still pricing their front list books above $10.00.  Any entrepreneur will tell you that any item for sale (in this case a book) that is priced at $3.99 will get significantly more buyers than a book priced over $10.00. The large publishers are over-pricing books and harming their authors’ ability to build readership.

Meanwhile, retailers are giving indie authors more seats at the market table. Every major retailer now promotes indie ebooks on their home pages. For example, Barnes & Noble stepped up efforts in 2015 to provide high profile merchandising to indie ebook titles and the local manager here in Fairbanks actually visited the writer’s guild to ask us to bring our paperback books to him for feature in an Alaska authors section.

The better indie authors get at cover design, writing, editing and creative marketing and promotion, the more of a threat we become to the traditional publishers. Eventually we will gain more market share and be able to increase our prices a bit while still remaining competitive. The big publishers don’t generally have that sort of flexibility and it will hurt them in the long run.

Which brings me to my second prediction. More traditionally published authors will continue to experiment with self-publishing and they will discover that the water is great for someone who already has name recognition.

Conversely, because of ebooks never go out of print (er, you know what I mean), authors will face more competition in the future, particularly from Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime. Why buy the book when you can read it and thousands of others for one low price? Amazon is training Kindle customers to view even 99 cent ebooks as too expensive when other books can be read for what feels like free. KU now offers 1 million books almost exclusively supplied by indie authors. So why buy the book?

Because of that pressure, non-exclusive indie authors (those who haven’t bought into Amazon’s exclusive publishing platform) will feel increasing pain in 2016 as Kindle customers opt to read books “for free” under their Kindle Unlimited subscription. So, I therefore predict that more indie authors will embrace exclusivity, even against their will. We’re cutting our own throats in doing so, but it’s the reality of monopolistic practices is that sooner or later, those who participate get shafted. Amazon controls KU payouts, which means Amazon can decide to pay authors less at any time, or can decide to demand even greater concessions in exchange for future program benefits. If your books are exclusive on KU, you are at the mercy of Amazon. With over 1 million books enrolled in Kindle Select already, it’s only a matter of time before the pool becomes overcrowded and Amazon makes the monopolist’s choice to increase the fee-for-passage in the form of even greater concessions.

(Aside here for a moment – Amazon is not a legal monopoly. Any company can enter the competitive ring against Amazon at anytime, but while Smashwords is fine with you putting your books out on other services, Kindle Select doesn’t allow that. That exclusivity leaves indies vulnerable to manipulations by Amazon. I have sold 13 copies of The Willow Branch on Smashwords in two years and several hundred on Amazon, making it likely that I will continue to opt for exclusivity even as it galls me to do so. I don’t know the solution because currently they have indie authors over a proverbial barrel.  I only point out the problem).

I believe print sales will remain steady, but if indie authors want to capitalize on that market we have got to learn to produce high quality print books at prices that don’t frighten away customers. Print books account for approximately 70% of the book market. That’s why, by the way, that I go to the effort to format for print and to produce high quality books. Createspace’s high prices mean I don’t sell a lot of them, but I’m hoping if they’re available, someday, I will. The local manager of Barnes & Noble told the writers guild that trade paperback sizes (the larger format books that indie authors normally publish) are a growing section of the business. He suggested we give them great covers and good interior formatting, up to or greater than the standards of traditional publishers. I already do that. Do you?

Indie authors are not significantly represented in print sales because we lack distribution to physical stores and nothing markets a print book like the ability to browse in person. But why would Amazon open a brick and mortar bookstore in Seattle if it didn’t acknowledge the durability and importance of physical stores?  Print is not going away. Traditional publishers and brick and mortar bookstores will continue to hold their own because people like to be able to browse physical books. Therefore, I predict that brick and more retailers will make greater efforts to accommodate indie authors who produce high-quality print books, because as our ebook sales grow, we become a threat to traditional publishers who don’t want to lose market share.

I predict that author support businesses will increase and eventually drive down the price of author support services — editing, cover design, formatting, marketing, etc. I expect to see merchandising companies to enter that market. Merchandising companies are the ones who would get your book placed in the bookstores and on newstands. We have a company here in Alaska that does that, but they want exclusivity and I am unwilling to give up distribution on Amazon to assure newsstand space in Alaska. I believe we’ll also see many of the “vanity” presses begin to offer lower-cost ala carte services as it dawns on them that independent authors aren’t making the sort of money that allows them to drop thousands of dollars on a “package” and that we have figured out that we don’t have to.

Finally, I predict that social media is changing. Unless something changes with Twitter it will become a vast echo chamber that won’t help to sell any books. I think that is already underway. What will take its place? Media that will challenge authors … Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram. They aren’t useless to us, but because they are visual media, we will have to learn how to communicate in that way. I hope you really thought about your cover images because their visual impact will grow in importance. I’ve been following a lot of photographers on Twitter these days because of that visual element.

How does all this effect me? Not that much because I write my books to please myself and my money job pays my bills. Yes, I would love to sell millions of copies and be a best-seller, but I’m not worried that it won’t happen because I remain grounded in the soil in which God has planted me. I’ll keep casting my bread upon the waters and see if any blessings return to me. I’ve heard advice from industry gurus that the more good books you publish, the greater your chances of being being noticed. I can do that.

So my absolutely final prediction is that Objects in View (Book 2 of Transformation Project) will publish no later than October 2016 and you can look for Fount of Dreams (Book 3 of Daermad Cycle in 2017). And I’ve got some works-in-progress that are progressing. At least those predictions I have some say in whether they come to fruition or not.

Prognosticating for you here in the Last Frontier, I’m Lela Markham.


5 responses to “Consulting My Crystal Ball

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  1. I find your thoughts on Twitter interesting. I’ve never found it useful to sell my books.


    • The “experts” claim (and I did consult some supposed “experts” to write the article) that if you are not engaged on Twitter, your sales will be affected. I saw a bump in sales when I first started there and I’ve gotten both interviews and reviews through Twitter, but I am not convinced it actually helps with book sales.

      The “experts” also claim you should follow someone other than authors, which I do. Having discovered that half the engineers I work with carry around fantasy books to read during their breaks, I now follow every techie Twit I see. I still don’t see a lot of book sales I can attribute to Twitter.

      Ads on Facebook, occasionally. Ads other places, yeah. Twitter … crickets.

      But the “experts” say ….

      Thus my prediction. Something needs to change there.


  2. The thing with Twitter is it’s difficult to track if sales are actually coming from there or not. There are ways, but who has the time?


    • Twitter takes a lot of time. I’ve gotten interviews from it and I’ve picked up a couple of reviewers from it, but I haven’t found anything that shows my sales are improved by being there. I know other writers who insist their sales drop off if they’re not engaged on Twitter and that may well be true, but again … how do you actually tell?


  3. So, someone read this today which made me read it again. My predictions seem pretty good now. Print sales are improving industry-wide. Ebooks are now stabilizing at 25% of the market. Twitter is still struggling against Instagram.

    Fount of Wraiths is still in process (watch for it in 2018), but the third book in Transformation Project series (A Threatening Fragility) is with the beta readers right now, so should be out this fall.


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