Diversify, Diversify, Diversify! Indie Pub It
There is a shift happening in indie publishing. It’s not an evolution, because the indie movement is an evolution in its own right (and building momentum each week).
Two advantages of indie publishing are driving this change. The first is the control authors have over their copyright, product and all business decisions.
This powers the second strength of the indie: They have the flexibility to turn on a penny. If they find a new retailer, for instance, they can retool, reformat, upload and be selling their latest title with that new retailer in hours.
The average legacy publisher requires debate, discussion and possibly committee meetings, levels of authorization, business models and a plan sent to all the appropriate departments (art, marketing, sales, editorial) before a new retailer could be added to the roster. Like the Titanic, two miles will have passed before they can stop the ship and change direction.
An indie author’s ability to respond to new market forces and opportunities now is driving the last sea-change in indie publishing.
For several months there have been grumbles from indie authors about Amazon changing their sales ranking algorithms. Amazon change their algorithms regularly but these latest changes meant the KDP Amazon Select program has lost most of its effectiveness as a sales driver – especially the five free promotion days allowed each title.
The huge number of indie authors using the program certainly diluted the promotion days, but Amazon’s algorithm changed the “sale” of a free book to being equivalent to one third of a normal sale. Books offered for free during Select promotions no longer climb the sales ranks like rockets. An author needs to give away tens of thousands of books to make a dent in a popular category’s best seller list.
In addition, the algorithms made the post-promotion slump steeper and deeper. Books slide back down the rankings faster and the post-promotion sales that most authors enter the program to encourage in the first place are not the fantastic numbers that early adopters of the Select program enjoyed. It has been nearly a year since another author earned around the same $42,000 a month, post-promotion, that Cheryl K. Tardiff did, for example.
Another algorithm change favoured higher-priced titles, giving each sale larger impact on rankings than cheaper titles. In effect, a $10 book with 10,000 sales jumps far higher up the ranks than a 99 cent book with 10,000 sales. The bias was clear: the legacy-published books with their generally higher price tags benefit from these new algorithms, while the cheaper indie titles are being pushed down the ranks.
Industry observers have pointed out that Amazon’s algorithm changes, their removal of whatever review they feel is “inappropriate” (without recourse or discussion for the author), the more recent removal of tags (which indie authors used to the hilt, while many legacy authors and their publishers do not), strengthens the legacy title bias. Indie authors were once Amazon’s best friends, when Amazon needed cheap eBook content to fill all the Kindles they were selling hand-over-fist, and the legacy publishers were slow to respond to the eBook movement.
Now, Amazon is realigning the equation.
It is natural for the indie dissatisfaction to push authors into looking for alternatives. As the Select program insists upon exclusivity, the first step has been an exodus from the Select program. Authors are returning titles back to the retail platforms already available: Smashwords, Barnes&Noble, ARE/OmniLit.
Then two new contenders threw their hat into the ring. Apple has always been available for eBooks distribution in their iTunes store, but until a few months ago an author was required to distribute via Smashwords. Apple now allows indie authors to upload directly, under certain stringent conditions, including having to own a Mac computer to upload the books. If you don’t have a Mac, you’re limited to three preferred aggregators (Smashwords is one) who will upload your book to Apple for you, for a fee. You lose control over your product working through an aggregator (you do retain copyright), but it provides access to iTunes.
The other player is Kobo. Kobo, like Apple, was only available via aggregators until late in 2012 when they launched their Writing Life platform. There is no barrier to dealing with them. They accept authors from around the world.
Indie authors were quick to take advantage of both of these opportunities. Almost overnight, authors retooled and uploaded and the wind changed direction in indie publishing as a result.
Previously, massive revenue streams were being reported by authors from only one source: Amazon. There were a few exceptions, but the majority of indie authors were earning the majority of their income from Amazon. Romance indie authors like Liliana Hart and Tina Folsom reported selling upwards of 30,000 books a month. J.A. Konrath (considered by many to be the father of indie publishing) reports that he earns 90% of his income from Amazon in a post where he, too, confesses that his KDP Select free promotion days are not as successful as they once were. He encourages everyone to use as many retail platforms as possible, even as he is praising Amazon to the hilt (deservedly so).
Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, put out a report of 21 Predictions in December where he urged authors to exploit as fully as possible the booming iTunes market (which now distributes to 50 countries). He followed up this month with a how-to post on maximising sales at iTunes. He has also explained why retailers like indie authors so much, on Huffington Post.
I am a member of an indie romance author network (Indie Romance Ink) that has, currently, 1,400 members including NYT best sellers and dozens of members of the 100,000 club (indie authors who have sold over 100,000 copies in the last twelve months). Since the (recent) boom days on Amazon, authors on this list are reporting monthly revenue in the four digits from retailers other than Amazon. Kobo and iTunes figure largely in these very interesting numbers, although for some authors, Barnes&Noble.com and All Romance eBooks (OmniLit) are also extremely lucrative channels.
The message that is filtering across the indie landscape is: Diversify!
Columnist: Tracy Cooper-Posey writes erotic vampire romance series and hot romantic suspense. She has been nominated for five CAPAs including Favourite Author, and won the Emma Darcy Award. She published 35 titles via legacy publishers before switching to indie publishing in March 2011. She has published 21 indie titles to date. Her indie books have made her an Amazon #1 Best Selling Author and have been nominated three times for Book Of The Year. Tracy has been a national magazine editor and for a decade she taught romance writing at MacEwan University. An Australian, she lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, a retired professional wrestler, where she moved in 1996 after meeting him on-line. Her website can be found at http://TracyCooperPosey.com