Some of you may know, I’ve just completed my first novel. After much thought and discussion, I’ve decided to go it alone and cut out the middleman. This decision means that success or failure will be entirely within my control – depending on whether it’s a good enough book and whether I market it well enough. Maybe I’m a control freak (I am a control freak!) but that’s how I like it. And the good news is we control freak writers have never had it so good with the open doors of Amazon just a few clicks away and the publicity opportunities offered by social media.
This morning I came upon a couple of articles via Twitter, one based on an anonymous insider view from a publisher that Amazon is in the process of killing off the entire publishing industry, and the other bemoaning the innate conservatism in publishing which is causing many excellent authors to take the self publishing route.
I think we’ve actually reached a tipping point in the book industry. According to the Guardian this week, 1 in 40 UK adults got a Kindle in their Christmas stocking. I didn’t – but then I had one already – as do most of my friends and family. I started out reading books on an iPad (great for magazines) but have found the Kindle perfect for reading fiction. I don’t believe that we’re suddenly going to see printed books go the way of illuminated manuscripts – well not entirely – but this is an industry that’s ripe for change – and ripe for disintermediation. To quote the anonymous publisher
Long-term there’s no future in printed books. They’ll be like vinyl: pricey and for collectors only. 95% of people will read digitally. Everybody in publishing knows this but most are in denial about it because moving to becoming a digital company means laying off like 40% of our staffs. And the barriers to entry fall, too. We simply don’t want to think about it. Amazon is thinking about it, though, and they’re targeting the publishers directly.
Leaving aside the venom spat out by rejected authors about publishing houses, there’s a lot of evidence that it’s an industry that has rested on its laurels for too long and has become deeply conservative and fearful of change and experimentation. Before you accuse me of gross generalisations, I know there are exceptions, but most large publishing houses have been doing things in exactly the same way for decades. It also seems unfair that the smallest slice of the money cake is the one that the hard-working author gets – and publishers can get away with that because authors will carry on writing even if they have to give their books away free ( as some of the self-publishers are doing in order to break through).
Another problem with publishing houses these days , from an author’s standpoint, is the dominance of the Marketing department. Now as an ex marketer I should be delighted – but what it means in reality is that niche titles, first-time authors, and books that are a bit different just don’t get the attention that the latest ghosted celebrity oeuvre is going to get. And that’s if the title doesn’t get vetoed by Marketing at the get-go – despite having editors lined up behind it singing its praises.
Another downside for publishers is the way they are lining up to hold back the Amazon tide by setting pricing. Readers are not stupid. They know that e-books save on paper, ink, storage and distribution and expect some acknowledgement of this. I recently bought a copy of George Orwell’s Burmese Days for my Kindle – it was £7.99 whereas the paperback was selling for £6.99. Amazon had annotated the price with the words “price set by publisher”. So attached am I now to my Kindle that I bought the book anyway, gritting my teeth with fury. Imagine my anger when I found that the publishers had not even scanned the text correctly – the entire book was littered with typos, sometimes rendering passages completely indecipherable. Amazon refunded the money and removed the book from sale when I highlighted some of the choicer errors to them. This smacks of sloppy profiteering by the publisher – certainly not by the late departed author.
Recently there’s been a reader campaign on Amazon to punish the authors of books with excessive Kindle pricing by rating the books with one miserable star – the works of Iain Banks have apparently been targeted in this way – although on checking now, all his are priced at £4.99, with the new one at £8.99 – a big saving on the hardback price – but maybe that means the campaign worked!.
Amazon, unlike the publishers, has opportunities to really milk a huge amount from its Kindle customers. It’s my first port of call for online sales – I’ve recently bought a vacuum cleaner, printer supplies, DVDs, a camera, a tripod, cushion pads and sewing notions. The lifetime value of a customer like me makes low margins on Kindle book sales a no-brainer for Amazon.
It’s a cut-throat world out there and maybe I’ll wish I’d shown some patience, given up some control and gone down the traditional route. Although as I’m not a footballer’s wife, a pneumatic Essex blonde, an X Factor contender or a stuffed meerkat I’d probably be left at the back of the queue. Maybe the hassle of formatting the book for different devices, tweeting away, and developing a publicity campaign will have me tearing my hair out. But the book has taken a long time to write and just as long to edit and restructure – if I could afford the effort for that I can afford the effort to get it out into the world. And who knows? – I may even make a bit of pocket-money at the same time!