Will Authors Quit Writing in 2016?

photo: Wikipedia       

That seems to be the prediction of Mark Coker, Founder and CEO of Smashwords. Via his blog:

“Many indies and traditional publishers alike reported flat or lower sales in 2015. The go-go days of exponential ebook market growth of the early days (2008-2012) are over. As I shared in my November 2014 post, Things Get More Difficult from Here – Here’s How to Succeed, a key factor in the slowdown is an emerging equilibrium for consumption of print and ebook formats. Due to the law of large numbers, ebook sales growth (or declines) will begin to more closely mirror the overall market for all books. The book market is mature and is therefore a slow or no-growth industry.  Additionally, there’s an ever-increasing glut of high-quality low-cost ebooks that will never go “out of print.” These continuing factors paint a picture for a more competitive landscape for authors in 2016 and beyond. Every author will face more competition today and tomorrow than they faced yesterday. In addition to the factors I outlined above and in the “Things get more difficult” post, the growth of Kindle Unlimited presents a new existential threat to the industry (more on this in the next item).

 Kindle Unlimited will gut single-copy sales and drive greater ebook commoditization

Earlier this year I blogged how Amazon’s merchandising pages encourage Kindle customers to read books for free as part of a Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime subscription. Most of the publishing industry remains oblivious to the long term ramifications of Amazon’s strategy here (not a surprise, because despite Amazon operating with amazing transparency and predictability, most industry watchers and media still don’t understand Amazon’s long term self publishing strategy). The issue of immediate concern is that Amazon’s merchandising tactics discourage readers from purchasing single copy ebooks. Amazon is training Kindle customers to view even 99 cent ebooks as too expensive when other books can be read for what feels like free. Amazon’s success with Kindle Unlimited, which now offers over 1 million books almost exclusively supplied by indie authors is going to gut the market for single copy sales at Amazon. It’ll be death by a thousand small cuts.  The pain will be felt by four publishing industry constituencies. In descending order of pain, and in order of who will feel it first, these constituencies include traditionally published authors and their publishers which I’ll consider as a single group; non-exclusive indie authors; Amazon-exclusive authors; and competing retailers.

Basically what Mark is saying is that selling single e-book copies, or even e-book bundles will soon become obsolete, replaced by subscription programs. The only question is whether the distributors assume an pool-sharing model (where money is collected and distributed equally among contributors as the distributor sees fit) or agency (where the contributor is paid for each book downloaded or read as an individual unit). If Mark’s prediction is accurate, and Amazon shifts more and more e-books into a subscription program, then you should know much much harder it will be for an indie author to make money. Especially since Amazon continues to dominate e-book sales. Read his post; it’s worth your time.

He also writes:

“During the early days of the indie ebook revolution, it was relatively easy for a quality writer to earn good income self-publishing low-priced ebooks. The market was doubling and tripling each year, readers hadn’t really seen 99 cent ebooks before, and everyone was happy.  As I mentioned in the “Ebook publishing gets more difficult from here” post, the exponential growth masked challenges that market’s maturation has now brought to light. Many indies who quit their days jobs to pursue writing full time will find they need to return to a “real” job in 2016, especially authors for whom writing is their sole source of income and they’re already feeling challenged to make the monthly rent. This means production will decline among the indie midlisters. As I’ve been telling the audiences for my ebook publishing workshops for the last seven years, if you want to make a lot of money publishing ebooks get a job at McDonalds instead. Publishing has always been a tough business. Witness the fact that most traditionally published authors must maintain day jobs. Ebook publishing is NOT the path to riches except for a very few authors. Yes, I’ve been pleased see the many Smashwords authors whose indie ebook earnings have allowed them to pay off mortgages, buy homes and save for retirement. These stories inspire me, yet we must remember these are the exceptions, not the rule. In 2015 I witnessed a growing desperation among many bestsellers, some of whom – I can imagine due to their prior successes with indie publishing – had might have changed their lifestyles or quit their day jobs. These authors are now feeling the financial and emotional pain of struggling to make ends meet. I hate to see this pain and anguish. As I’ve advised in the past, your prior success is no guarantee of future success. If you’re among the many Smashwords authors who’ve been blessed and have done well, or if you’re fortunate enough to sell well in the future, please bank that money when it comes. Pay off your debts and be conservative with your savings so you can build up your rainy day fund.”

No one has ever said publishing was easy, but I’ve noticed big-time indies are often more optimistic than the rest of us into the future of indie publishing, in terms of making serious money and not just doing it as a side-hobby. It’s easier to think earning money writing is easy and Amazon is great if you’re one of the lucky few to earn 6- or even 7- or 8- figures a year writing, just as a lot of the blockbuster best-sellers in the traditional system rarely complain about their publishers or support changes to the traditional publishing system that are needed. It’s a matter of whose bread is begin buttered by whom, I guess. I’d guess an author has maybe a 2% chance at best of earning enough money a year to sit around and write (and do writing-related activities) all day. That includes authors who could do that, but who choose to maintain other occupations, such as with non-fiction writers. And that’s just to pay bills; that’s not the lavish lifestyles some of them live.

David Boyle of the Society of Authors, based in the UK, writes:

“You worry a little, as an ebook author, that people might be sceptical that you have ever written anything. Or indeed whether all that writing exists in any real sense, since you can’t see it on your shelf. I mean, where is it? You can’t lend it, copy it or give it as a present. Yet bizarrely, online pirates seem capable of giving it away for free within days of it going on sale.

There are certainly advantages to writing the new generation of ebooks that are designed as such, rather than as reluctantly issued e-versions of printed books. They are often a convenient length – maybe a fifth or quarter as long as a traditional book, just long enough to read on a transatlantic flight or a train to Scotland. And they are priced low enough to sell widely. It is a marginal decision to buy a short book at £1.99 or £2.99. You might as well buy it as not.

an ebook writer, I’m only too aware of the problem flagged up by the Society of Authors, that the income of writers is still falling. I certainly agree that authors should get at least half the royalties on ebooks; the big publishers often fob them off with 25% or less. Well, I would say that.

Yet this is not primarily a difficulty with ebooks. It is a symptom of two more fundamental, linked problems. The competition watchdogs have allowedAmazon and the big supermarkets to strangle what had been a working business model. As a result, the remaining, desperately consolidated, mainstream publishers are trapped in a business model that works for nobody – except perhaps for the 5%, the mega-earning authors, who take 43% of all the money.”

Though Mr. Boyle says he will continue writing (and I assume working his financial services job while he writes on the side), no doubt many authors will come to the conclusion that yes, it’s really, really hard to earn a living from writing and the time spent writing could be better done doing other productive things.  I think his concern is more aimed at the Big Five traditional publishers, who are losing to Amazon and who don’t offer a good deal on e-book royalties to their writers. I can’t speak for smaller presses.

So writers of the world: How many of you will continue to write, and how many will decide the time spent writing just isn’t worth it anymore?

Do readers prefer longer or shorter books?

Big pile of books

I saw this article from The Guardian:

Books are steadily increasing in size, according to a survey that has found the average number of pages has grown by 25% over the last 15 years.

A study of more than 2,500 books appearing on New York Times bestseller and notable books lists and Google’s annual survey of the most discussed books reveals that the average length has increased from 320 pages in 1999 to 400 pages in 2014.

According to James Finlayson from Vervesearch, who carried out the survey for the interactive publisher Flipsnack, there’s a “relatively consistent pattern of growth year on year” that has added approximately 80 pages to the average size of the books surveyed since 1999.

The literary agent Clare Alexander agrees that long books are more portable in electronic formats, but points out that much ebook reading is focused on genres such as romance, crime and erotica. For Alexander, the gradual increase in size is evidence of a cultural shift.

“Despite all the talk of the death of the book because of competition from other media,” she says, “people who love to read appear to prefer a long and immersive narrative, the very opposite of a sound bite or snippets of information that we all spend our lives downloading from Google.

This would have surprised me. All along I’ve been told short stories are back in style because of declining attention spans and people reading from their phones, on smaller screens unlikely to be suitable for a 500 page turner. Therefore, the argument goes, quit writing those 300 page stories and instead sell 15-40 page short stories at 99 cents a pop.

But longer stories also sell better, according to Mark Coker at Smashwords:

Longer books sell better than shorter books.  This finding is consistent with each of the prior year’s surveys, though as I mention in the presentation, this year’s finding comes with a lot more caveats.  In a nutshell, I suspect the rise of multi-author box sets, often at deep discount prices, is probably throwing off the data this year, and as I discuss in the presentation, some of the dynamics will cause it to understate impact of longer books and some will cause it to overstate it.

I think this is what’s happening: Casual readers who would rather watch TV or play video games prefer shorter works, because they can finish a book or short story in an hour or less and feel like they read something to completion. But passionate readers prefer a story they can connect to, and more often than not shorter works don’t do that in fiction. Now that doesn’t mean shorter is worse: Animal Farm, The Notebook, The Alchemist, The Old Man and the Sea, MacBeth, are all examples of shorter works which told stories most readers still remember today. Animal Farm and The Alchemist are considered among the best fiction works ever written. That said, some of the best-selling works are longer and it does mean I believe a well-written story is more important than a short one, even if some are emphasizing shorter over quality.

As readers, do you prefer shorter or longer works?

 

 

 

Amazon to pay you for giving away free samples

In a move which may make some authors happy, Amazon has decided to pay authors by the number of pages written:

“(Reuters) – It could soon pay more to write lengthier books, if you are an author self-publishing on Amazon.com Inc’s Kindle ebook platform.

Starting next month, the e-commerce giant will pay independent authors based on the number of pages read, rather than the number of times their book has been borrowed.

The move is aimed at authors enrolled in Kindle Direct Publishing platform – which lets authors set list prices, decide rights and edit the book at any time – and is applicable to e-books made available via the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library programs.

Self-publishing has transformed what it means to be an author. Simply uploading a document and adding a cover layout to it can turn anyone into a published writer on ebook platforms such as Kindle and Smashwords.

Amazon said on Monday the move would better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read.

“We’re making this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors,” Amazon said on its self-publishing portal.

Amazon uses a complex method to determine payments for independent authors – payouts are based on a fund, the size of which is set by Amazon every month.

Under the new plan, authors will get a share of the fund proportionate to the number of pages read.

While independent authors have largely embraced Amazon’s self-publishing platform, the company has in the past been involved in bitter fights with large publishers.

The company had a stand-off with publisher Hachette Book Group and some authors last year over pricing. The fight ended when Hachette and Amazon reached a multi-year agreement for e-book and print book sales in November.”

This change appears to be encouraged by other self-published indie authors but the gist is this: For those who were in Amazon’s KDP program or in Kindle Unlimited, writing longer stories didn’t benefit the writer, so many self-published authors began writing novellas and publishing those as they were shorter and the payouts were better. This way of doing business allowed people who sold short stories at 99 cents to make as much as an author discounting a book to 99 cents. if you get the same rates either way, then why write a 70,000 word book when you can put a short story trilogy of 25,000-30,000 words and sell that?

Everyone gives away page samples, and this move encourages authors to give away more free pages. This way, if someone “tries it before they buy it” you can still get paid. It’s along the same lines of the whole Taylor Swift vs. Apple controversy where Taylor called for Apple to pay artists for songs people streamed during their free trial period. No word if Amazon’s timing was perfect or if they reacted immediately to what was happening with the music industry.

The only catch is, you have to be in KDP to get this benefit. One argument going around is that this is a move by Amazon to try to convince more authors to go exclusive with Amazon. If you can get paid for free samples, versus putting up your book elsewhere and not getting paid for free samples, where you would go?

Actually, that IS the question for all of you. Who among you would take up Amazon’s offer to pay you for sample pages read, in exchange for going exclusive?

The Traditional Publisher’s Revenge: Turns out Publishing with Amazon has Drawbacks, too

cartoon credit: Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe. Distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.

On December 27 the New York Times ran an article called “Amazon offers all you can eat books: Authors turn up noses”. The problem starts with a new Amazon program called Kindle Unlimited, which allows readers a.k.a customers to buy into a monthly membership for $9.99 to get unlimited access to a wide range of titles. Needless to say, this is great for avid readers and for Amazon, who gets people to use their services, but a bad deal for authors who depend on selling books even if only for $0.99 a copy.

From the article: (bold emphasis mine)

“Authors are upset with Amazon. Again.

For much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.

Now self-published writers, who owe much of their audience to the retailer’s publishing platform, are unhappy.

One problem is too much competition. But a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less. And in interviews and online forums, they have voiced their complaints.

For romance and mystery novelists who embraced digital technology, loved chatting up their fans and wrote really, really fast, the last few years have been a golden age. Fiction underwent a boom unseen since the postwar era, when seemingly every liberal arts major set his sights on the Great American Novel.

Now, though, the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third.

Revenue from e-books leveled off in 2013 at $3 billion after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012, according to BookStats. But Kindle Unlimited is making the glut worse, some writers say.

The program has the same all-you-can-eat business model as Spotify in music, Netflix in video and the book start-ups Oyster and Scribd. Consumers feast on these services, which can offer new artists a wider audience than they ever could have found before the digital era.

Holly Ward, who writes romances under the name H.M. Ward, has much the same complaint about Kindle Unlimited. After two months in the program, she said, her income dropped 75 percent. “I couldn’t wait and watch things plummet further,” she said on a Kindle discussion board. She immediately left the program. Kindle Unlimited is not mandatory, but writers fear that if they do not participate, their books will not be promoted.

One major point of contention: Kindle Unlimited generally requires self-published writers to be exclusive, closing off the possibility of sales through Apple, Barnes & Noble and other platforms. (Ms. Ward was an exception.)

Amazon usually gives self-published writers 70 percent of what a book earns, which means a novel selling for $4.99 yields $3.50. This is much more than traditional publishers pay, a fact that Amazon frequently points out.