By Mark Young
[Free eBook giveaway contest. See details at the end of this article.]
Indie authors must fight every day to gain discoverablity in today’s challenging market. They must compete with well-financed traditional publishers who have a strangle hold on how and where books are placed, including advertising and marketing. Traditional publishers enjoy a near-monopoly of their products in franchised and independent book store outlets because of the deals they can make regarding return of product, discounted prices, and the fear books store owners harbor over Amazon’s expanding influence.
So how do indie authors/publisher compete against such odds?
One big advantage is offering books at a price-point lower than what traditional publishers can afford to offer. Traditional publishers, burdened with huge operating costs and fix-asset expenditures, need to price their books to allow for maximum profit. Even their eBook price point is equal to their hardback novels in some box stores. There are a few other ways that indie authors can compete—social networking, book review sites, and lower prices for production to name a few.
But discoverability is where traditional publishers generally overshadow indie authors. And this is where companies like Amazon, B&N, and Kobo can step in to help indie authors compete in the market place.
Barnes & Noble released information last week that I believe was intended to help indie authors publish their eBooks. It fizzled! All I heard from authors were comments like these: “Seriously?!?!?! This is B&N’s big news??? You’re kidding!” and a few other choice words I won’t put into print. Let’s just say that it was a major disappointment for many indie authors who were expecting more from B&N.
I think B&N really wants to provide more assistance to self-publishing writers struggling to get their eBooks out to readers. This was part of B&N’s message to authors:
Our success is your success, and we've been working hard to bring you a platform that takes our partnership—and self-publishing—to the next level. Today, we're pleased to introduce to you NOOK Press, our new and improved self-publishing platform!
The press release goes on to offer a one-stop platform upon which authors can write, edit, format and publish their eBooks on this new self-publishing Nook Press. This was a nice effort, but B&N—as well as Amazon, Kobo, and other self-publishing services—can go a lot further to aide indie authors to reach new readership. At the present time, Amazon does the most for indie authors, but even this innovative marketer can do more to help.
I don’t have all the answers. Like many other indie authors/publishers, I am still trying to figure out this ever-changing market place. In this article, I want to throw out a few ideas that I think might help meet the needs of indie authors and their readers while benefiting companies like B&N and Kobo—even Amazon.
Right now, Amazon is winning the race. Unless things change, this chasm will only widen—to the detriment of everyone. Here are a few suggestions that might help even the playing field:
- Allow self-publishing authors to offer pre-release sales of their book just like traditional publishers.
- Provide services like Amazon’s KDP’s Select option—but without demanding exclusivity.
- Allow POD print books, as well as eBooks, from indie authors to be sold through each publisher’s site.
- Generate email ads for all authors to attract genre-specific, topic-specific, or price-conscious readers regardless of whether the books are indie or traditionally published.
Pre-release sales: Traditional publishers regularly offer readers an opportunity to purchase a book that is not yet released. For example, one of my favorite authors, Dean Koontz, has a novel coming out in May that is now available to pre-order through Amazon and other locations. As part of a marketing strategy, this allows the books to automatically reach fans the moment it is available. The pre-release sale allows for the novel to begin gather ranking status, publicity, and marketing traction. It gives an opportunity for the author/publisher to generate a pre-release buildup. As far as I know, this pre-release option is not available to indie authors except for a limited few.
I know there might be some trepidation from the Amazon/B&N/Kobo companies to offer this opportunity to everyone. What if the authors/publishers failed to meet the release deadline? Customer complaints would be pouring in and refunds would be pouring out. And companies like B&N—who allow indie authors to sell eBook but not print books for fear that indies might compete with the retail print sales and anger traditional publishers clients—might be reluctant to do anything to improve the playing field for independents. However, there are ways to minimize some of these fears. For example, authors/publishers might agree to pay a fine for failure to meet the publication deadline as an incentive to ensure the books are available on time. There are many ways to make sure these problems are minimized, and appreciation from indie authors and their customers would be evidenced through continued customer support, loyalty, and increased sales.
Provide services like Amazon’s KDP’s Select option but without demanding exclusivity: As an indie author, I have greatly benefited from Amazon’s KDP Select program by getting my novels in front of thousands of readers. Last year, when I tried it for the first time, I was shocked at the results. For a writer struggling to make a few sales a day, I saw my sales count soar into the thousands in just a few days. Not only sales, but I saw hundreds of readers make use of Amazon’s Prime lending option where readers get to down load new books for a free read in this lending option. One caveat of this program: authors must allow Amazon exclusivity for three months at a time. No other company can offer that novel for sale. Later, the Amazon internal matrix changed to lessen the results of the program, but I still participate on a novel-by-novel basis because Amazon helps to promote each book that is in their program. This is significant for writers like me.
If Amazon would relent and allow authors to enter the KDP Select program without exclusivity, more books could be offered through this program. In the long run, customers who pay the annual fee to participate would be greatly served by gaining access to a greater variety of novels. Authors would realize a larger reading market. And Amazon would still financially benefit through increased sales and over-all customer and author satisfaction. A win-win situation.
Taking this a step further, B&N, Kobo and other platforms might consider offering similar programs—without exclusivity. For all the reasons above, these companies would financially benefit from serving the great reading market.
Allow POD print books, as well as eBooks, from indie authors to be sold through each publisher’s site: I know this is controversial topic, but I think it is time for companies like B&N and Kobo, to recognize that the market is shifting and that they need to come up with a different business paradigm. I am still trying to figure out all the points of view on this particular issue, but I do know that there is a market for indie authors print books as well as eBook offerings. However, B&N and other companies—and most brick-and-mortar bookstore—are shutting Amazon out. I understand this dilemma, and I also recognize the fact that it is important that that Amazon not become the only game in town. That is why B&N and other companies need to do a little soul-searching to find a way to meet the needs of indie authors and their readers while still making a profit.
Right now, my print books cannot be sold through B&N, though that company will accept my eBooks. Only Amazon and its subsidiary, CreateSpace, offers my print novels. Unless I can get a brick-and-mortar store to order my books through Amazon (fat chance), my print books will never be offered in physical bookstores. And—as I understand the process—my novel sales will never be registered on Nielsen’s BookScan and similar services that track print sales, even though I have sold a number of print books online.
There are some changes underfoot. Some indie authors have entered into contracts allowing traditional publishers to retain the rights to print books, while the author retains all digital rights. I know this is comparing apple to oranges—POD books to traditionally-published prints—but the market and technology is changing. So must companies who want to stay alive in this market.
There must be way for everyone to come out ahead. Could B&N, for example, offer a similar online service for POD books? Might they accept CreateSpace books with a different pricing arrangement with the author? Unless there is a way to compromise—for the good of the readers, authors, and publishers—writers like myself and readers will continue to patronize Amazon to the exclusion of other companies.
Generate emails ads for all authors to attract genre-specific, topic-specific, or price-conscious readers regardless of whether the books are indie or traditionally published: Again, Amazon does this best. Amazon will send out massive ad campaigns by email to include all their authors, particular those who have ranked well on Amazon’s bestselling lists. As soon as I see one of my books appear on these lists, my sales take a jump. My eBooks have been on Barnes & Noble for as long as I have been on Amazon, but not once has B&N made an effort to promote my novels. Likewise, Kobo has never gone out of their way to help promote my books, although they are still relatively new to the business and seem to be looking for way to help authors.
More effort should be made by these other companies to come alongside their indie authors and help get the word out. Discoverability is the name of the game. And right now, Amazon takes the lead. This translates into more sales, more money for everyone—Amazon and indie authors. B&N, Kobo and others: start thinking outside the box before you are left behind. Those of us in the indie trade want to work with you, but the relationship must be a two-way street.
Many of the topics I touched on in this article are more complicated than I had space and space to comment on. I wanted to present some ideas that all parties might consider—indie authors and companies with publishing platforms like Amazon, B&N and Kobo. We need to work together. The last thing you want to do is raise the expectations of indie authors—like B&N’s announcement last week—and then not come through. It makes for bad business.
I urge companies like Amazon, B&N and Kobo to explore ways that they can further team up with indie authors to improve discoverablity for independents while giving readers a wider selection of reading material to match their literary taste. What do you think?
FREE EBOOK CONTEST: What ideas do you have to help bridge this gap between indie authors, readers and companies like Amazon, B&N and Kobo? I’ll take a look at any suggestions left in the comments section over the next week and select which one was most unique. At least one or more of those who leave comments will win copies of the Gerrit O’Rourke series—Off the Grid and FATAL eMPULSE—as a thank you for sharing your ideas with us. My selection will be posted as a comment to today’s article in about a week.
Mark Young is an Amazon bestselling author. Both his Travis Mays and Gerrit O'Rourke novels reached the top 100 list, and his debut novel, Revenge, hit #1 for bestselling mystery/suspense police procedurals. Mark worked as a police officer and sergeant with the Santa Rosa Police Department in California for twenty-six years after working as an award-winning journalist. He is a Vietnam combat veteran, honored to have served with Fox 2/5, 1st Marine Division, and later with Headquarters company. He worked on several law enforcement task force operations, including the presidential Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force targeting major drug traffickers, and the federal Organized Crime Task Force charged with identifying and prosecuting prison gang leaders. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his family. You can find out more about Mark Young at his web site atMarkYoungBooks.com