Is it tidings of comfort and joy or is the party over?

Some random thoughts about the state of ebook publishing at the turn of 2012.

This morning I picked up 4 ebooks for under £2. I don’t mean under £2 each (which would be a good enough deal) I mean all 4 for under £2. And one of these was a bestselling book which is soon to come out as a movie. Life of Pi (to give it an unnecessary plug!) It cost 20p.  Seriously. 20p. How do they do that? For me as an indie publishing on KDP I HAVE to price at 75p minimum which converts to 77p minimum for the consumer. And if I do that I make approx 20p per copy.  If I COULD sell for 20p a copy I’d make 6p per copy.  I guess that’s a kind of answer. If you are a mainstream publisher you can make 6p a copy because you’re making a load of 6p’s.  As an indie I’m NEVER going to make enough at 6p a copy to wash my face. I’m priced out of the market (even if I could get into that 20p market!)

And it’s not just in digital publishing that you face a war of big versus small.

Whether you liked it or not, Fifty Shades of Grey would set you back no more than £3.99 ANYWHERE in paperback and if you hang round supermarket shelves for your book purchasing you’ll find that you can pick up plenty of books for this price. 3 for a tenner deals are no longer just for wine. They’re for ‘culture’ as well. And if you like the kind of throwaway books that dominate mass market ‘culture’ then you’re probably as happy as a pig in muck these days.

If, however, you have (dare I say it) a more discriminating palette you may find things aren’t quite as good. And if you’re an indie writer/publisher, I suggest that it’s time to wake up and realise that everything in the brave new world of digital publishing isn’t a) rosy or b) fair or c) tailored directly to help YOU make money.  The marketplace is bigger than ever before and that makes indie visibility even harder than before. Sad, but true.

I could have filled my boots (and Kobo/Kindle) with free and very cheap ebooks relatively easily (though I find that going through the Amazon free Kindle sections pretty soon palls – and makes you realise quite how many books you DON’T even want for free) and I’m guessing that’s what a lot of people who got Kindles for Christmas will be doing.

I know several indie authors who have put their ebooks on free promotions over the Xmas period in the hope that they will soar up the rankings and that when ‘newbies’ to the whole ebook phenomena start surfing for product, they will be well positioned to be ‘the freebie to click.’ I was sceptical. Before the ‘event’ I thought that if indies were working out that this was the time to ‘hit the consumer’ then big publishers (for all they claim to hate ebooks) would have worked out a similar strategy. And bestsellers at 20p does seem to do it.  I reckon everyone has a tolerance level beyond which even the free downloading frenzy cannot be sustained indefinitely.

Okay, you might buy Life of Pi for 20p and you might have come to that decision by looking at the side by side list of 100 bestsellers and 100 top free ebooks.

But I decided to do some personal research. To try to replicate what a new ereader consumer might do. I clicked and then clicked KINDLE STORE and up came 1883 results. The top one was The One You Love (for free) a suspense mystery by Paul Pilkington which is an indie book (I assume) with some 494 reviews and it’s been out since mid 2011. I guess he’s the man all indies are jealous of.  But not being a fan of the genre I scrolled down a bit to find a mixture of things. This wasn’t the place to find EBOOKS as such now was it?  I got down to Peter May (I’ve heard of him) The Lewis Man (another book from 2011 published this time by Quercus) at 20p.  So I clicked on it and went down to the product details where I could find a link to the top 100 paid Kindle books.

I think the ‘newbie’ would take some time to find this sort of link. They would probably just go back to the previous page. I don’t think that Amazon makes it easy for the customer to find the free stuff by indies (not that I’m suggesting they should –their job is selling ebooks!) But I’m trying to look at the process with fresh eyes (rather than the year long jaded ones I currently possess)  So leaving Peter May on the shelf (even at 20p) I tried another tack.

I clicked on Kindle store and ignored all the myriad of ebooks in the centre of the page (which surely WOULD be the starting place for the new purchaser) and on the left clicked on around the store/kindle bestsellers. It took me some time to find this when I was a ‘newbie’ a year ago and even now I can’t always find the FREE listings without going to a book I KNOW is up for free and then clicking on its product description placing.  Anyway, this left hand side click is what took me to Life of Pi for 20p as #1 bestseller in Kindle store.  There is NO list of free kindle books beside it. I wouldn’t know there WAS a list of free Kindle books unless I KNEW of this already! It’s not that easy to find. If you happened to chance upon the #1 free Kindle ebook you’d get the list, but how would I do that? And would I bother when I can see all sorts of things for 20p in front of my beedy greedy eyes?

Instead, faced with a list of 100 books I could lose the will to live surfing down that lot and get enough to keep me stocked for a while without ever thinking of finding ‘FREE’.

I bought 3 out of the first 5 (yes, 2 of them I couldn’t be arsed with even for 20p) and then as I scrolled down and the prices started going up, I just jumped ship.  I know that when one first gets an ereader one thinks that filling it up with books is the best game in the world, but there’s still a bit of me as a reader that says,  why download something you will probably never read.  One wrong click and I found myself out of the store anyway.  Needing to find a way back in.

At this point I question: as a new ereader consumer, wouldn’t I just abandon this? I’ve had enough turkey now haven’t I? Surely easier to sit down and READ the ones I’ve just bought and come back again in a few days or weeks to get to grips with it all.  So the ‘indies’ didn’t get a look in on this trip.

This Christmas there were lots of mainstream bargains to be had and I’m not sure indies would have got a look in with the general public. But do they ever? Do Indies not really just keep plugging their work to the same group/s of people and will they thus not suffer a sort of diminishing return? That’s certainly been the result of my research over the last year.  But I’ve decided to have a regular slot looking at the ‘game’ of digital publishing and see what it can teach us all about the brave new world of digital publishing.  Join me here. And feel free to add comments to my observations. They are my personal observations and I’m really happy to hear other views!

Of course one thing I haven’t taken into account is that I don’t actually HAVE a kindle and so I don’t wirelessly connect direct from my device like you are supposed to. I do it on my pc.  Maybe it’s all different if you are doing it direct from your Kindle. But I suspect that if you do that you are even more prey to being ‘sold to’ the things that Amazon want you to buy. And as we all know, their algorithms are legendary (and scary for those of us with conspiracy theory syndrome) and very very deviously clever.

BrandLoyaltyOne thing they WON’T be plugging you is my ebook Brand Loyalty which is a near future look at the sort of world we’ll inhabit if we allow this to go too far. If you want to find out about the fictional Ultimate® corporation (I promise it is fiction, but with each year it becomes a little less so).




Download it as KindleAMAZON or Kobo kobo(or indeed buy a good old fashioned paperback copy)


It’ll set you back £2.95 though. But then, if you balance it out with all those BIG boys you got for 20p, you’ll still get change from a fiver won’t you?  And it might just change the way you look at our interactions with the cyberworld!

I’d like to point out that at one point last year Brand Loyalty sat up there at #1 FREE Kindle book in UK and #6 in US.  It gave me a sense of satisfaction. Which was just as well because it sank back to invisibility pretty soon after I asked people to pay for it!   The moral is folks, if you want a wide choice of fiction, sometimes you have to pay. I suggest you get the free stuff from the big boys who make profits hand over fist and pay the small guys who are more or less paying you to read it anyway!  But that’s just my warped view of fairness in the publishing world.


About callyphillips

5 Responses to Is it tidings of comfort and joy or is the party over?

  1. ronasewell says:

    I like you wonder where publishing is going. Will the big six simply price all other out of the market. 2013 will be an interesting year for all writers.

  2. stevenalker says:

    Just shared this on FaceBook. I am an international marketeer with some reputation as an expert in some numerate areas of marketing analysis. The selling of eBooks baffled me – there is so little information and few reliable statistics because the majority are held by and guarded by Amazon. Loved reading your thoughts.

  3. louisewise says:

    I’ve often wondered is it because I’m a writer that I can search for books (indie) that I want to read? It seems that it is.

    • Louise, I certainly think that the indie writer and the readers experiences of Amazon may be quite different! We have the desire (and the insider knowledge/need) to search for things but I think your average reader just goes with what’s in front of them the easy way (and why wouldn’t they?) I think a lot of indies delude themselves that they are reaching any other than the same few folk in their ‘social ‘networks. Of course those who espouse the 1000 true fans may not worry about this, but I’m somewhat sceptical of such a ‘model’.

  4. Mari Biella says:

    Visibility (or the lack of it, more usually) does seem to be the major problem facing most indie authors. I’ve no answers, unfortunately – if I ever find any I’ll be sure to share them!

    Speaking from personal experience, and echoing what Louise says, it’s only since I became an indie writer and publisher myself that I’ve really become familiar with a range of other indie authors. However, I’ve also found some really wonderful books that, if the mainstream publishers were still the only game in town, would never even have the chance of being read. So I think the best thing we can do is just keep on writing and not get too hung up on the question of sales. We’ll probably never make a lot of money, but at least our books will be ‘out there’.

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