Saturday, 10 December 2011

Mark Coker, Amazon and the value of indie authors

KDP Select, which I wrote about here, will cause most initial collateral damage to Smashwords, a site that allows self-publishers to access Sony, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Apple. Tens of thousands of indie writers withdrew some or all of their books from the site yesterday, in order to comply with Amazon's exclusivity clause. I did myself.

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, has written critical pieces on his blog and in the Huffington Post. You can sympathize with his point of view - his site is a resource for indies, and now a massively richer business is poaching them. Although the writers leaving are those who, like me, sell insignificant numbers on Smashwords, if 20,000 books that sold one copy a month are removed, that's a lost income of around $4,000 a month.

What would I do if I was Mark Coker facing this threat to his business? I'd ask myself what Amazon was doing that I wasn't - I'd stop fighting the alligators for a moment and do a bit of swamp draining. The key problem with Smashwords is you can load an excellent book, but no one who isn't looking for it will find it, as I know from personal experience. So, if I was him, I'd recruit my daughter and six voracious readers like her, young and willing to work for a modest fee. I'd tell them to find the best books on the site and write a review. I'd showcase one of these books a day, then put them in a Best Books on Smashwords chart. I'd think up other cheap promotional ideas, like Reduced for a Day, or Month's Best Cover.

What chiefly interests me about this whole situation is that suddenly indie books are being viewed as a valuable resource, instead of a 'tsunami of crap'. Amazon has always known it was worthwhile giving nearly equal opportunities to self-published books - other outlets are only just beginning to catch up. How long before these outlets start actively competing for our custom, instead of tolerating and side-lining us?


  1. It's here... I think that 2012 will be the beginning of publishing like we've never seen it. And certainly not from the BIg Six who will remain bloated and blinking on the bottom of that swamp you mentioned.

    My own digital publisher has incredible ideas for value-adding on not just my output but on all those who belong to the list... I think its going to be very exciting.
    I just hope that the reader benefits over all and doesn't get lost in the crossfire.

    Please pardon all metaphors!!!

  2. It will be interesting to see exactly what sorts of benefits authors see from participating in the new Amazon "Select" program. I have decided not to go with it for a few reasons.

    I only have one book so far.

    My sales have been okay, but not nearly as high as yours or some others. So there isn't much Word on the Street about it. I doubt Amazon would do much if anything about that. The example they give of potential earnings of $7,500 in one month is, in a word, fantasy for 99.9% of the authors targeted.

    Although the overwhelming majority of my sales have been through Amazon, I have sold a few this year through Kobo, Apple, Sony and especially Barnes and Noble and do not want to exclude any potential reader.

    Smashwords has been a good partner so far. Yes, they could do more to attract traffic and showcase their authors, but I probably wouldn't have even ventured into the ebook arena if it wasn't for them. Plus, they have the only program in place that allows me to participate in Operation eBook Drop. I love it when a soldier stationed overseas gets my book for free.

    Barnes and Noble have just brought out a very, very nice product in the nook Tablet. Most of the geek reviewing sites are giving it the nod over the Kindle Fire and although I don't see them being an immediate threat to the Kindle's dominance in the ereader market, I do know that a whole bunch of folks will be getting the new Tablet this holiday season and I sure don't want to exclude them as potential purchasers of Boomerang.

    Finally, as a Westerner, I have a natural aversion to anything that smacks of monopolistic practices. I will not deny the benefits I have gotten from my association with Amazon, but I am not interested in accepting their engagement ring and pledging fidelity. They already get two-thirds of what Boomerang sells for, I think we'll both let it go at that.

  3. Not that I know what I'm talking about (LOL!) but I hope Smashwords and Smashwords like businesses do not allow Amazon to be all domineering (although maybe it's too late) - monopolies are never a good thing!

    Take care

  4. I've been watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona, so have been neglecting my commenters. Forgive me.

    Prue, I'd like the readers to benefit, but also the often undervalued and underpaid writers.

    Alan, I know you've done well with Nook sales especially, and if I'd had even 5% of my sales through other channels I would not have enrolled with KDP Select. It's a business decision; we should all do what is in our own best interest. There is no point in trying to prop up ailing businesses because we approve of them. It never works.

    Kitty, Amazon isn't perfect by any means, but it's done an awful lot more for indies than anyone else. And let's not forget it's challenged the Big Six's monopoly, so it's a bit rich them wailing about Amazon's dominance.

  5. It is a shame that Mark will suffer.

    It is also true that I've not had a single paid sale through smashwords in a year and a half.

    All the affiliate sales in that time have amounted to less than $8 despite all my advertising and my efforts to promote.

    Smashwords isn't a good place to sell books, it's a great place to give books away. The people who do read books on smashwords won't pay for them.

    I don't know what to do. I've put 1 short story up on KDP Select and will watch to see what happens with it.

  6. I agree, Ms Kitty - in the early days, I made Remix free for a few days and was astonished at the downloads. I only put Replica on Smashwords as a couple of my readers asked me to, and in income terms it hasn't been worth the effort of formatting.

    People on Kindleboards say you need to promote to get sales in markets other than Amazon. But I really don't see why I should have to do ALL the work - as well as writing, I have a small business to run. If those outlets want indie sales, they should do something to help. Amazon does.

    Like you I'm watching and waiting to see how the first 90 days works out.

  7. My own experience points to a freebie working like a mailshot, with 1 or 2 people buying my novel for every 100 who download the free short.

    My sales are absolutely risible, I sell about 5 books a month on and about 5 on .com. I sell absolutely nothing through Smashwords. So... I might give this monopoly thing a whirl for the first three months and see if I get any more for Few Are Chosen.

    However, ie as an ex Brand Manager, I would suggest we are unwise to think this is down to any generousity on Amazon's part. It's merely to drive more business to them and away from other suppliers. This benefits them in several ways:

    1. It strengthens the market for Kindle. A lot of books are suddenly only available to Kindle users, making the Kindle a more attractive proposition. Tipping the balance for some buyers.
    2. It weakens the competition. They become the sole supplier for many books. Certainly as far as my book is concerned they pretty much are but...

    However, seeing as they are the only place where my book sells, I probably will pull it from Smashwords, for three months at any rate.

    Don't confuse commercialism with philanthropy. They are helping some of us because by doing so, they will make more money but they only help those who have already achieved a certain critical mass of sales.

    Like you say, though. No harm in giving it a whirl.



  8. I agree, Amazon does what's best for Amazon, like any business. But it was the first to recognize that money could be made from writers who couldn't get a traditional contract - and unlike with vanity presses, who've been milking naive authors for ages, we benefited too.

    I also think efforts to go against market forces seldom work. We all want bookshops, and high street retailers for that matter, but shopping online is just so easy and cost-effective...

  9. What I wonder is this. Once Amazon have pretty much destroyed the competition so that the only viable way for indies to e-publish is via Amazon, will their generous royalty rates remain quite as generous?

  10. Thing is, Justine, most indies sell very little anywhere but Amazon. This is because Amazon's algorithms make your book more visible the more it sells. No other outlet does this. If you want to do well at Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes, Pubit, Smashwords etc., you have to do all the work yourself.

    If the competition doesn't like Amazon attracting self-publishers, then why don't they do something about it? Why don't they add some exposure for indie books? Why should it be my responsibility to safeguard their businesses?

    I can only make business decisions based on what is happening now. If in 90 days time, other outlets are offering a better deal, then I'll leave KDP Select.

  11. I agree that other outlets should make themselves attractive to indies if they want to keep their business and that as an author you're naturally going to go with whatever's best for your books now.

    What I worry about is what Amazon's game plan is and whether that game plan will continue to be as good for indies as it appears to be now...

    But I am a cynic (and maybe I read AW too much!).

  12. Two years ago, nobody was doing anything for indies. These days Amazon's algorithms are not as much in our favour as they were six months ago. Things change, and will carry on changing. But Amazon has enabled some of us who were rejected by the publishing industry to sell a lot of books. I'll always be grateful for that, whatever happens next.

  13. I certainly agree with your last post, Lexi. As much as I deplore their predatory business tactics I am glad Amazon is there. I'm even selling the occasional paperback through Amazon, which quite frankly I find to be astonishing. These sales must be coming from readers who are well outside my internet circles since I have been offering the book direct from me for substantially less and yet the Amazon sales come faster than the direct ones. That means there is something about Amazon's search abilities that brings absolute strangers to my book. And what a lovely thing that is.

  14. My experience is the same as yours with paperbacks. What I like about Amazon selling the odd print edition of my books is I think it can only come from a reader who has enjoyed the books on Kindle, then bought the paperbacks to give to a friend or relative. Remix and Replica often sell in pairs.

  15. Hi, Lexi. I LOVE 'Remix' and went back to Smashwords (where I bought it) to post a great review but couldn't because you're no longer published there. I also can't buy anymore of your books because you're ONLY on Amazon and I have a Nook. I won't do Kindle for the PC because I bought a portable eReader - not curling up with the big 'ol desktop computer!
    So, as a reader, I'm kind of annoyed and hope to remember to look you up if I ever get a Kindle or you go back to Smashwords or B&N.
    I'm just stating this for perspective.
    As an author, I'd never sign up for something that's so exclusive. There's something inherently wrong with shutting off every distribution channel there is except one.
    Again, as a reader, there are two more authors I know that I now cannot buy their books because they did KDP Select and who knows how many more I'll discover as the days go by.
    It'll be interesting to see how this all turns out - for the author, the reader, Amazon and Smashwords and the other distribution channels.
    One thing I'd never want to do (like the person that mentioned the Operation Book Drop) is limit the opportunities of getting my books into the eager hands of readers.
    So, in conclusion - thanks for a great read in 'Remix'! I'm glad I bought it mere days before you unpublished at Smashwords. If you'd done it sooner, I'd never have heard of you or known you were a great author.

  16. Glad you enjoyed Remix, Jennifer. You must have been my 25th November Smashwords sale - the one before that was 29th July, so you can see why I didn't feel I had much to lose by removing my books. I wasn't going to put Replica there, but two people asked for it. I gave the first person a free copy, then loaded it for the second. He is Replica's only Smashwords sale (and it's a good read - it's just been given five stars on Amazon by the #1 Hall of Fame reviewer).

    I just haven't noticed any 'eager hands of readers' grabbing my books on Smashwords, whereas I've sold over 46,000 on Amazon.

    I'm experimenting with a new opportunity, that's all - and I can always change my mind in March.

  17. As you said, try things and see how they go. Just wanted to share my experience as a reader/fan of yours. (Take it for what it's worth!)

    I whole-heartedly agree with your statement that Smashwords has got to step up their game. They're great, I love working with them, I sell more through them than Amazon but they seem to have stagnated. I know they're busy with the technological part of the equation - and that's so important - but as you say, if no one's going there to browse, does it matter how great the tech is?

    I'll be following your Blog to see how the experiment goes. Good luck and Happy Holidays!

  18. I shall report in due course :o)

    So far I have had three borrows - I wasn't really expecting any.

    Happy Christmas!

  19. Terrific Blog.....NEW follower.

    I am stopping by from the Top Writing Blog competition.

    Just wanted to say hello. This is a great way to find new blogs and visit ones you haven't visited in a while. :)

    Elizabeth - Silver's Reviews

  20. Elizabeth, I'm so sorry - Blogger sent you to Spam, whence I have only just rescued you. Thanks for dropping by :o)