Who's Steering this Thing?

This year has been intriguing.  A year or so ago, we all had a rough idea what the book industry was.  In fact, the premise of the blog I set up a year ago was that my words would eventually end up on a bookshelf.  As I gave my blog a make-over today I was aware of this.  How likely are my books to end up on a bookshelf now?  It is by no means certain that actual, physical books will be made from my words.  They could become best selling novels and never go near paper.  With every month, it is more clear to me that writers are not the only ones fumbling through a maze whilst wearing a blindfold: everyone is doing it.  



Readers are confused.  One minute, books were physical things.  The next minute, you could download PDFs for free - or for pennies.  Suddenly, ebooks can sell for as much as, or even more than, physical books.  I laughed at the idea of paying $75 for an ebook the other day, when I saw it being discussed on Twitter, only to be pulled up by someone who had thought nothing of spending $150 on one.  Meanwhile, independent shops have been forced out of towns by big book stores and they, in turn, are now being forced out by supermarkets and Amazon.


Ah... Amazon.  How convenient it is.  I love Amazon - there's even a little carousel of wonderful writerly things I lust after at the bottom of this page - but I am a little startled by their newest offer.  It is something wonderful for writers: utterly liberating.  We can finally grab our careers by the lead and march them through the park of profitable endeavour.  That said, it is a cloudy day for publishing.  What am I on about?  Well... you know that writers can now self-published through Amazon?  Their very generous royalty calculations have just exploded.  30-ish% is now 70%!  A fair share for writers will be exchanged for a fair price for readers and exclusivity to the Kindle.  Is this the best thing to happen for writers and readers in an age?  Should we all buy Kindles and publish our books with Amazon?  What would that do to publishers and book shops? How will the Apple iSlate change the literary climate?  Should we wait?  What do you think?

Agnieszkas Shoes  – (21 January 2010 at 10:27)  

I think more & more it's the industry not the writers that's in the dark. We know what we want - to get people reading. And we have the freedom to pick and choose our means - most of the time at zero cost. The bigger the business, the more it has to put its eggs in a basket, make a choice, invest in it, and hope it was right.

I'm utterly committed to the freemium model - see the article I wrote for Guy Gonzalez last year:
http://loudpoet.com/2009/09/03/freemium-for-writers-is-two-debates/

At this stage of my career I want readers - and ebooks are something I can give them for free to remove the barriers to people reading my work - once they're there, of course, it's up to the work to do its job. That's all we can ask for - an opportunity to be read - if the writing's no good then that's our tough. If it IS, people will, I am sure, pay for physical products.

Out of interest, this is the futurology post I wrote last May about the publishing industry:


http://streamwriting.com/blog/?p=116

Rebecca Woodhead  – (21 January 2010 at 14:49)  

Thanks for that comment. Really interesting. I agree with much of it. I'll look at those articles.

As a survivor of the first web boom, I am wary of the idea that you can give something away and later expect payment for it. We all assumed the same thing and it kicked us in our respective arses. My experience is that you can give an item away and expect payment for an item/service that is similar but not the same kind of thing. For instance, people expect free blog content but don't necessarily expect free novels. Once you give away free novels, that is expected. I see where you're coming from as I've come from the same place before in both business and creative ventures but that approach won't work for me this time. I have no margin of error financially so I have to be as commercial as I can to get a foothold. After that, I love the idea of letting lose with other genres, literary fiction etc. I regret the format wars at the moment. Readers and writers will lose out.

I'm putting together a plan. It's fortunate that I have industry types interested so I can make a choice between different approaches. I think if I approached anything as a 'last option' I would find it hard to be excited about it. That's one of the things I find interesting about your approach - the fact that it is proactive and conscious. It is, as you say, all about the readers. Writers need to make choices that are sustainable for them and that also serve their readers. Sometimes that will involve more work (my current business plan involves an obscene amount of extra work to accomplish this) but that's the price we pay for living our dreams.

Thanks again,

Rebecca

Eric  – (21 January 2010 at 18:00)  

Great new look, Rebecca. I really like it. As for the question at hand, I'm not a fan at all of e-books. Even the mere idea makes me shiver in my boots. To not hold a physical book in my palms would be just wrong. I'm also not a fan of self-publishing, because I see great merit in the current publishing process. Does it make it truly difficult for writers to get published? Sure. But rather than see that as an obstacle, I tend to view that as a challenge. If I am truly as decent a writer as I believe myself to be, I have faith that I will be published at some point (and my work will be book-worthy). While I can understand the argument of so many writers about how hard it is to get published, I don't view it as such a bad thing. There are so many out there that can (and do) put out crappy books, and it's truly unfortunate. I seriously doubt however, that I will ever own a Kindle or e-book. It just isn't for me. Nice post, good food for thought.

Agnieszkas Shoes  – (21 January 2010 at 21:26)  

@Rebecca - a lot of internet companies went bust. About 95% within a year I think I read. But not all of them did. Some got lucky. Some got it right - and of those, many are now (to use that awful jargonese) monetising their position. If there was a mistake (and there were lots), it was creating the expectation of free for sonmething they intended to charge for eventually. I never intend charging for ebooks. I intend charging for special editions and merchandise - and I intend to keep the products very different. I'm not suggesting novels be free - I'm suggesting my ebooks are free.

Of course, I may be wrong - but the point about this rather wonderfully up in the air time we're in the middle of is that it doesn't matter. It costs me nothing to experiment. The best chance of getting it right is trying and failing and trying and failing, and coming back again and again. Which is something publishing just isn't doing - one of the reasons I don't want to be part of the publishing industry.

@Eric - I don't own an e-reader and probably never will - I like paperbacks :) And zines that you can roll up and put in your pocket - I'm too clumsy to trust myself with an e-reader in the unlikely event I could ever afford one!

Self-publishing is a controversial topic. For me, it's never about getting published being hard. It's about self-publishing being best for one's book - if it's not, don't do it. I write the knid of fiction no publisher would go near - it's just not commercial enough - it coudl sell a couple of thousand copies a book a year - but a publisher isn't interested in figures like that. COULD I write something they'd be interested in? I don't know. I tried writing a thriller once. It was a disaster. And I didn't enjoy it - so what would be the point of my trying? I already have a day job that I don't really enjoy - that pays the bills (just) in a way writing "commercial" fiction wouldn't.

I agree - there are lots of awful self-published books out there - way worse than anything you'd find in a bargain bin. Does taht make my writing bad? That's something for my readers to decide. If it IS bad I don't deserve them to buy my paperback, or my download my next ebook. But one thing's for sure - no matter how good it is, no publisher will touch it. I want readers to have the option, though - they're out there - just not in large numbers. But large enough for me eventually to make some money out of it.

Craig Lewis  – (22 January 2010 at 08:14)  

A word from an industry that knows. Don't start giving your stuff away for free. I work in the newspaper industry and that's exactly what happened here. Now people expect news for free and people are struggling to work out ways to profit from online. Keep the value of your stuff now and you'll benefit down the line.

Rebecca Woodhead  – (23 January 2010 at 01:47)  

Great points.

Eric, you're right. The competition in traditional publishing is a good thing and helps to ensure that the best books make it onto shelves. I disagree that ereaders are a bad thing. I hope that they and physical books can co-exist like showers and baths or ovens and microwaves.

Dan, the business I set up didn't fail, I just no longer work there. It changed with the market and is still going under a different name. I agree with you that self-publishing should be a choice.

Craig, thanks for the comment. You're right.

Rebecca Woodhead  – (23 January 2010 at 01:52)  

By the way, it appears that actual, physical, books can be part of this Amazon deal but the Kindle version needs to be cheaper. It also seems that the deal is being offered to the US market alone in the first instance.

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