I picked up this speech from Publisher’s Weekly after receiving Mark Coker’s Smashwords blog distributed to authors, which puts a considerably gloomier spin on publishing in 2015. I’m quoting this verbatim with my comments interjected here and there:
PW: “Self-publishing isn’t going anywhere, and Smashwords’ Mark Coker recently took a look at how we got here.”
LM Comment: An unfortunate choice of words. I thought PW was going to say ‘Self-publishing is dying.’ What they meant to say is, ‘Self-publishing is here to stay.’
PW: “The Self-Publishing Book Expo was held in New York City recently with Coker giving the keynote address. Several trends have led to the explosion of self-publishing, and many of those reasons have allowed Smashwords to grow into a leading distributor of e-books.
Here were Coker’s 10 trends in the self-publishing marketplace:
Coker: 1. Rise of ebooks
When Smashwords was incorporated in 2007, e-books accounted for one-half of one percent of the market, according to Coker. Amazon brought a lot of attention to the ebook market and it starting growing exponentially, Coker said.
“Today around 35 percent measured in dollar terms of the overall publishing market goes to ebooks and for some genres it’s even higher,” Coker said. “Print is not dead though. The growth of e-books has slowed. I think e-books will continue to grow of books purchased and read but at a much lower rate.”
LM Comment: ‘Measured in dollar terms.’ This means independent authors claim much higher percentage of revenues per title than traditional authors, which is quite true. As a percentage share of total books sold, however, ebooks remain at about ten percent of the total book market. I’ve noted that independent authors who also invest in print books (and it’s an out-of-pocket expense) sell about ten times more ebooks than of their print books. For traditional authors, this percentage skews just the other way, ten times more print books than ebooks. Why? Because independent print books still can’t begin to compete with the big distribution channels of traditional publishers.
Coker: “2. Trends in publishing tools
“The printing press is free and available to you, the knowledge is free and available to you,” Coker said “You have the knowledge and tools to publish like a professional and writers are taking advantages of these tools. It allows writers to go faster to market.”
LM Comment: Publishing ebooks is free with knowledge about formatting and such. But that’s not the same thing as ‘printing press,’ which implies print books and is not free at all.
Coker: “3. Self-publishing authors hitting best sellers lists
Self-published authors appear on every major ebook retailer’s best-sellers list, along with USA Today and the New York Times lists. Coker predicts this will only become the norm.
“By year 2020, 50 percent of the ebook market will be controlled by indie authors.”
LM Comment: But if expansion of the ebook market is slowing and the glut of free or 99 cent content is bloating, ‘50 percent of the ebook market’ is a misleading statistic. If the ebook market remains only ten percent of the total book market, that’s 50 percent of not very much.
Coker: “4. Stigma of self-publishing disappearing
“Six years ago, self-publishing was viewed as an option of last resort, it was viewed as a place for failed writers,” Coker said. “(Indie authors) realize now their books can be as a good or better than what is published by New York.”
With that, however, Coker notes the stigma of traditional publishing increases with much of it being self-inflicted. Examples include traditional publishers pricing ebooks too high, not publishing fast enough and aren’t giving authors enough control.
LM Comment: This is an interesting twist often employed by propagandists—to conflate or equate a single term in two different contexts without noting the difference. Confusing? I think so. He was talking about the “stigma” of indies, then switches to the “stigma” of traditionals. Traditional publishing has no stigma. The business is riddled with serious problems but I doubt anyone would say traditional publishing has a stigma.
Coker: “5. Traditional publishers don’t yet understand the indie author movement
A shining example was Pearson Penguin buying Author Solutions, a self-publishing company that has exploited authors.
“This acquisition confirmed the worst fear of many authors that their publishers don’t care about them,” Coker said. “I know that’s not true. I met so many people in the publishing industry. Publishers do care about authors, they care about people but this was a big mistake that they made, getting into vanity publishing.
“It was a mistake for a publisher to take money from a writer; they should never take money from a writer. The money should flow from readers to publishers to writers and not the other way around.”
LM Comment: Amen to this. In the next blog, I’ll tell you about what I’ve learned about “Partnership Publishing.” But here’s the first warning flag—if anyone approaches you as an author to engage in “partnership publishing,” check your handbag and pockets to make sure you’ve still got your wallet and run away. Fast.
Coker: “6. Rise of e-books subscription services
Oyster and Scribd are the fastest growing distribution channels at Smashwords.
LM Comment: My Smashwords titles have done well at Oyster and Scribd. But then, in July 2014, along came Amazon.com with Kindle Unlimited, a subscription service that offers readers free books, and purports to pay authors a percentage from a “fund” for every free borrow. Please see the previous blog in this series for my description of the serious detriment to authors resulting from KU.
Coker: “7. Amazon vs. Hachette
A deal was recently reached between Amazon and Hachette.
“It looks like Hachette prevailed with the ability to control ebooks, but this dispute revealed a lot of ugliness in the industry,” Coker said. “It created a lot of division. We saw authors attacking authors with people who took sides. It was unfortunate it devolved into that, but the dispute gave many publishers insight into Amazon’s strategy.”
Coker notes that Amazon is in the business of controlling its suppliers. Amazon views books as commodities and puts “the squeeze” on suppliers so they can offer consumers lower prices.
“Publishers don’t like being treated they are selling a commodity. This isn’t a product that could be outsourced to China,” Coker said. “This is a product that is created by writers like yourselves.”
Amazon will also put a large emphasis on its own books under its publishing umbrella.
“They have the right to decide what books they are going promote and what they have shown is that they are going to give a merchandising and discovery advantage to books that are published under Amazon and nowhere else,” Coker said. “Exclusivity is going to be core for them going forward.”
LM Comment: One of the most serious problems with traditional publishing is that they DO treat books like widgets. If a book doesn’t sell what they feel is an adequate number in a short period of time, the book is yanked out of print, and the author can’t do a thing about it. So while it’s quite true no business can outsource books, especially fiction, to China, the notion that traditional publishers aren’t treating books as a commodity is laughable. That’s why the independent publishing revolution arose in the first place, driven by many traditional authors like yours truly whose books were not treated well by traditional publishers.
Coker: “8. E-books going global
Last year, 45 percent of sales through Apple iBooks came from outside of the U.S. (on Smashwords).
LM Comment: Hooray for worldwide readers! But the huge question remains, how does an author become visible in media blizzard?
Coker: “9. Self-publishing leading to a tsunami of low quality books, but they are invisible
“Readers don’t respond to poor quality books,” Coker said. “The flip side is that it’s leading to tsunami of high quality books and enables more high quality books to be published like never before. That’s why self-publishing is so great, by allowing everything to be published, amazing works of brilliance are allowed to be published.”
LM Comment: Sadly, no they’re not invisible. They’re everywhere.
Coker: “10. For authors, everything gets tougher from here on out
“Like cobwebs of stainless steel, ebooks are immortal,” Coker said. “They will always be on the shelf. They will never be out of print. This is both good and bad. Self-published means you can earn you annuities for the rest of your life, but also means more competition, and the competition is going to get fiercer and fiercer every single year.”
Coker notes that supply of books will likely surpass the amount of people available to read them all. Therefore, it will make the road a bit more difficult even for those seeking the traditional route.
“For authors perusing traditional paths, lower advances, fewer publishers and fewer agents,” Coker said. “And for all authors it means it’s going to be tough to stand out.”
However, Coker’s own story about having to borrow money to keep Smashwords afloat in the beginning led to his last point to the authors at the Self-Publishing Book Expo.
“This is not the time to quit. This is the time to start,” he said. “Even though the future is challenging, there has never been a better time to publish. You now have access to a global market of millions of readers who are looking to discover the very best books.”
So there you have it, my friends. Coker’s speech to an independent publishing convention was quite different from the 2015 predictions blog he sent to Smashwords authors and the last point of the speech is the gist of the State of the Biz in 2015. Times are tough, there’s a hustler born every minute, and packagers and marketers and middlepersons and gatekeepers are scheming like mad how to get the talent’s money.
To me, this statement of Coker’s is the most salient: “It’s a mistake for a publisher to take money from a writer; they should never take money from a writer. The money should flow from readers to publishers to writers and not the other way around.”
In the next few blogs in this series, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned about “partnership publishing” and about true “hybrid publishing.”
Previous blog in this series:
State of the Biz: Publishing 2015, Part 1: Is Independent Publishing Dead? http://lisamasontheauthor.com/2014/12/08/state-of-the-biz-publishing-2015-part-1-is-independent-publishing-dead-lisa-mason-sfwapro/
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