Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"Indie Authors are Responsible for the US Ebook Decline" - Say What?

Joood - Hooligan from Platypire reviews shared this article about the decline in ebook sales. It includes a fancy graph that shows indie authors and Big 5 authors have switched places as far as market share of ebooks sold are concerned, and apparently that coupled with a slight decrease in ebook revenue in the past year is reason to lambast indie authors for killing ebooks. For shame you guys (indie authors), for shame!

Now, I'm just one blogger and I'm far too lazy to go do lots of research for numbers and graphs and things, so I'm going to operate on the assumption that the numbers used by the author of the linked article are correct. They at least seem reasonable, and they're probably going to be largely irrelevant to what I have to say anyway. And this is just my take on the issue, but I really think this guy missed the mark, big time.

So the article starts off talking about how ebook revenue is down about 12%, but publishers are making more money (because of high ebook prices) and have even seen a modest increase in print sales. Of course they are seeing an increase in print sales! Let's take The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan for example. This book has been out for 10 years. It's not new, but it is still mildly popular. On Amazon, you can get a new paperback copy of the book for $9.52. The Kindle version (which you don't actually own) is $11.99. If it were me, I'd pay $2.40 less and get the paperback that I could also loan to several friends if I wanted to. Why are the Big 5 pricing their ebooks higher than paperbacks? The additional upfront costs for ebooks are minimal (formatting) and aside from the costs for that, there is no danger of loss. They're not printing thousands of books that might not sell. As the original article mentioned, ebooks are immortal. They can be there FOREVER at no additional cost to the publisher. The publisher doesn't need warehouse space to store them. They don't need trucks to ship them to bookstores. So why would they price their ebooks higher than their paperbacks? I don't know for sure, but I can speculate. The conclusion I come to is that they want to point to sales numbers and say "Look, print sells better than digital." Of course it does, when it's the cheaper way to buy.

The article next discusses how it's easier to find a truly good book in a bookstore than it is online. I have to disagree with this, because the book store does not provide me with reader reviews with which I can make my purchasing decision. Reviews from average readers like myself are rather easy to come by when I'm shopping online. Add Amazons suggestion feature, and I'm rolling in new books that all sound amazing (except not really because they're digital and rolling on my Kindle would probably break it and that would suck.)

In the same paragraph, the author of the article questions "Why are digital sales truly down?" He seems to use "sales" and "revenue" interchangeably, and they're not interchangeable. If an author sells 100 copies of their book at $2.99, they are going to make more revenue than if they sell 100 copies of the same book at $0.99, but in both cases, they've sold 100 copies, so their sales are the same even though the revenue differs. Beyond that, his source (I've just discovered) for his 12% revenue decrease is the Association of American Publishers. I doubt indie book sales were considered in those numbers at all. So maybe the real reason that the Big 5 have seen a decrease in their ebook sales is because more people are discovering that indie authors have something worthwhile to offer, for far less than the Big 5 are charging.

In his next paragraph he asserts that ebook sales are down across the board because indies have flooded the market and there are more ebooks to choose from. Now, I'm pretty sure you can ask pretty much any indie author and they will agree that the market is rather saturated, which does make it more difficult to get noticed. I don't see how that translates to readers buying fewer books though. I understand it translates to individual authors selling fewer books than previously because there are more books for us readers to choose from, but having more options has never resulted in me buying less than what I intended to buy of anything (the opposite is usually true for me be it books, candy,  or even cereal. You give me options and I tend to go a little bit overboard.)

We see a brief mention of negative publicity for the indie community (I'm not going to argue with that. I've blogged before about the negative side of indie publishing from a reader standpoint.)

Then we get to his fun graph, where he shows that indie authors now account for almost 45% of ebook purchases on Amazon where the Big 5 have dropped below 25% of ebook sales. He says this is due to indie authors spamming out ebooks. Obviously it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I can buy anywhere from 3-10 indie books for the same price as ONE Big 5 ebook (all depending on the prices of the individual books). Excuse me for wanting to get more books for my money. He does mention the discrepancy in pricing between indie ebooks and Big 5 ebooks, and rather than concluding that Big 5 ebooks are overpriced, he concludes that indie books are underpriced (which will be funny for me later on). Apparently things are going so great for physical books now, that in 2015 Amazon actually generated more revenue on physical books than ebooks! (Okay, I can accept that.)

Now this next paragraph is the one that really made me shake my head. This author thinks that indies days are numbered because they can't take advantage of new trends in publishing that the Big 5 can like...wait for it...ADULT COLORING BOOKS! (Let that sink in for a minute. We are accepting that adult coloring books are on the same level as novels, and are used to figure sales numbers. No wonder Amazon generated more revenue on physical books than ebooks last year. Adult coloring books became all the rage last year. In fact, as of right this minute, a coloring book is the 2nd most wished for item in books on Amazon. The book in the top spot is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.) So this guy is arguing that indie's days are numbered because adults like to color too. That would be like me saying that comic books are on their way out because of the rising popularity of Sudoku. The two are not related, and appeal to different demographics. People who haven't read a book since high school, may buy adult coloring books. People that want to read a book, are not going to pick up an adult coloring book to satisfy that desire. People aren't going to stop reading because adult coloring books are a thing. Also, an indie author COULD produce an adult coloring book if they had the inclination and artistic talent to do so.

The article goes on to talk about the brightest minds in publishing saying there are too many indie ebooks out there (they would say that because it cuts into their bottom line. That's what competition does.) So this authors solution is that Amazon should segregate self-published books into a section of their own, and once they reach a certain level of sales they can be included in with the books being put out by the Big 5. That way we can separate the chaff from the corn so to speak (does corn have chaff?) Why not put ALL books in the "minor leagues" (he uses baseball as an example) until they reach a certain sales level, and then move them up to the majors. That makes just as much sense. Surely the Big 5 wouldn't have anything to fear from that approach (they really probably wouldn't because there is enough hype about the books on t.v. and in magazines and all over Facebook and everywhere that they'd reach the necessary sales numbers in pre-orders anyway).

In summation, basically the entire article read to me like a giant hissy fit about indie authors being to blame for the Big 5's drop in ebook sales. Let's not look at what we could be doing differently as publishers. Let's just pin the blame squarely on the shoulders of the thousands of authors who are seeing their dreams come to fruition in spite of us not wanting to give them the time of day. If we say it often enough, and loudly enough, eventually we'll drive that final nail into the coffin, and indie authors will go away for good.

Well I've got news for you guys (Big 5 publishers). Indies aren't going anywhere, so you can stop whining about how they're killing your ebook sales. - Katie


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm pretty sure - no I AM SURE - your thoughts are more thought out and insightful than the article (yes, I did go and read it). The author of the article actually called one of the authors who commented on the article stupid. And the other comments? If you can't defend your obviously controversial article, maybe you should't write.

    1. Thank you...I mean, I wrote this largely off the cuff, but the original article had been festering in my mind for about an hour (and it just wouldn't go away so I wrote my whole long winded response.) I personally had to stop looking at the comments because they were just making me more mad. - Katie