Self Publishing and Market Disruption

Yesterday morning in my Twitter feed, I ran across this piece by self-published author Catherine Howard.  In it, she asks the hypothetical question “do ebooks sell simply because they’re cheap?”  I say hypothetical because low price is certainly a factor but not the only one.

Price point is something I, as a self published author, have considered quite a bit.  I have reached the same conclusion Howard has.  My books are cheap enough that people can be enticed to give them a shot for the cost of a cup of coffee.  If they don’t like it, they don’t really lose anything.  If my price was $12 or $15 and the buyer thinks the book sucks, they’re far more likely to feel ripped off.  My thinking on this is keep the cost low enough to encourage exploratory reading by buyers with as little downside to them as possible.

Plus, my expenses in producing a book are basically limited to my time and little else.  Howard makes a good point that traditional publishers cost structure, even for inexpensive to produce ebooks, are infinitely higher.  They’re not simply making a profit on the book in a vacuum, they’re supporting an entire corporate infrastructure.  Where $2.99 works great for me, and Howard as well, apparently, a large traditional publisher with many mouths to feed has to set a price point much higher, sometimes five times higher.

This echoes some of my recent sentiments on the state of large publishers.  What we’ve seen across the spectrum of information and entertainment, be it books, news, music and even movies and television shows, is a democratization of opportunity.  Large prohibitive production expenses in the past have effectively limited competition to a relative few players, creating a manufactured scarcity that drove higher prices.  Add to that the controls over distribution and marketing, largely supported by previously high costs for both, and you can see the forces pushing higher consumer pricing.

All these costs, that were once significant barriers for entry, are no longer any such thing.  Howard mentions easily covering her expenses for copy editing, proof reading and cover design in her piece.  But for someone like me, with a background as an editor and publisher with production and design skills, I don’t even have those modest costs.  Therefore, I can produce and sell an ebook for $2.99 very comfortably and profitably.  A traditional publisher, however, cannot.  They need much higher prices to support their infrastructures.

This is a very real problem for them as it’s a trend that isn’t going to turn.  If anything, as print book sales decline in the coming years, as they no doubt will, traditional publishers are in serious jeopardy of suffocating under their own weight.  The need for publishers to adapt is paramount.  They simply must alter their business models in such a way as to bring down prices, not drive them higher.

I watched first hand as the print news and periodical business failed to adapt to the changing reality, and that segment of the industry is in virtual ruins, having lost at least half of their once ample business in less than half a decade.  The music industry followed much the same course, sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling “Nah, Nah, Nah” as their cost-heavy infrastructures quickly became an anchor around their neck. 

Instead of adapting, the music industry tried the litigation route, trying to stifle technological innovation as well as threatening and suing their own customers.  The news business tried to slap the same content in the paper online thinking they could simply sell ads against it just like they’ve always done to great success in print.  Neither tack worked as both businesses have suffered massive financial losses as well as a steep drop in relevance.

The book publishing industry is only now entering the period of its disruption. The ebook boom has barely even gotten off the ground.  Publishers would be wise to heed the lessons taught by the music and news business.  Don’t be fooled by the fact that you’re legacy business still sports large libraries of maketable material and controls the vast majority of the most popular writers.  That is little more than carryover from your dominant positions of yesterday.

Competition has and will continue to explode.  You’ve almost completely lost control of your once dominant distribution channels.  The created scarcity you benefitted so much from simply doesn’t exist any longer.  The cost structure for the new leaner, more efficient competitors you’ll face transforms your vast infrastructure from a strength to a weakness.  And, as more and more writers see the potential upside of publishing themselves, you’ll undoubtedly lose ground on your stable of popular writers.

Adapt and do it now.  Certainly, there is still money to be made in your traditional ways at this moment, but unless you want to find yourself in five years sitting back nearly helpless and behind the curve while your business continues to dwindle, changes must be made.  Of course, if publishers fail to do so, they’ll have lots of company.  Music companies, news companies, and soon, film companies who are following in the failed footsteps of their music brethren, will be there with you to share stories about the good old days.

Published in: on September 27, 2011 at 11:15 am  Comments (2)  
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The Morning Tweet: Yet another reason newspapers are gagging on their last breath

During my morning scroll through my Twitter feed, I ran across a rather interesting piece by self-published author Catherine Howard. But before I delve into that in a later post, let me make a quick point.  In days gone by, people would get out of bed in the morning, make a pot of coffee, walk out in the driveway or to their mailbox and get their copy of the morning paper, sit down at their table and read all the news that was fit to print.  I used to do that myself, even in high school, I’d often buy a copy of USA Today on my way to school.

Now, however, things are much different.  I still wake up (usually), I still brew some coffee, but instead of getting the daily newspaper, I grab my cellphone and pop open Twitter.  I spend about the same hour or so I used to reading the paper, but now I simply scroll through the feed of tweets I’ve meticulously cultivated over my three months as a newfound Twitter fan.

I’ve got news, events, commentaries, sports, entertainment, publishing industry news, etc, etc all right there in an ever-increasing rolling list, many tweets complete with links to long-form articles or additional information.  Very few of what I read comes from traditional newspaper websites, either.  What’s more, I can comment on anything that strikes me right at that moment, I can pass along the best of what I find through retweets, and I can even communicate directly with whoever created the tweets or the underlying work.  I’ve done all three this morning, just as I do every morning, and when I’m caught up, I can happily go about the rest of my day.  And the one thing that never crosses my mind anymore is stopping somewhere along the way to pick up the daily paper.  It’s all the more reason to believe newspapers as they’ve existed are well and truly in their final days.

Which brings me to this:  Also this morning, I ran across an announcement that the Baltimore Sun will be locking everything up behind a paywall on October 10.  To this, I say good riddance.  The Sun has been in a steady state of decline for as long as I can recall, long before the industry itself dropped into the current free-fall.  When I was working for a Chesapeake Bay boating magazine about 10 years ago, we had a subscription to the Sun.  Eventually, we just let it lapse because, even though we covered the single largest, most important body of water in the state, whose economic effects exceed nearly everything else in Maryland, the Sun provided absolutely zero news or information of any consequence or value whatsoever.  In other words, it was a giant waste of money.

In the years since then, I can count the number of times something in the Sun was a topic of discussion.  That number is slightly less than two. In the past two years alone, since I’ve become very web oriented in getting my information, I have come across a matter of import from the Sun or its website exactly zero times. 
The Sun faded into irrelevance years ago.  This news about the paywall is the first time the Sun has crossed my mind in I don’t know how long.  When I read about the paywall this morning, my immediate thought was, “Are you kidding me?”  The Sun has produced absolutely nothing of significance for years now, and you wanna lock up all that stuff that nobody cares about behind a paywall? 

And I am a voracious news consumer living in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay not 45 minutes from downtown Baltimore.  How about trying to become relevant to Marylanders again, by going out on a limb and produce a product worth a damn.  Then you might actually have something to sell.

Published in: on September 26, 2011 at 6:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Eye For An Eye: Is it time for the death penalty itself to get the chair?

With the questionable execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, the questions still surrounding the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas, and the recent release of the West Memphis Three and what would have been the questionable execution of Damien Echols, serious doubts have been raised about capital punishment.

Being an admitted death penalty supporter, even I have come to the conclusion that our justice system doesn’t have the capacity to bear the burden or properly respect the authority to put someone to death any longer, if it ever truly did.

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Devil’s Dozen now available! My new book hits the digital streets…

Here it is!  After lots of painstaking time and effort, my second collection of short stories is now out and available for purchase.  Unlike my first book, Bad Timing, this new model will only be available in electronic formats for the time being.  So if you don’t have a Kindle or some other ebook reader, what’re you waiting for?

Here is the listing on my Watershed Publications Site

Here is the listing in the Amazon Kindle Store

Here is the listing for various other electronic formats at Smashwords

If you haven’t yet read Bad Timing, you can find a copy either in print or ebook here.

Check it out!  If you enjoyed my first effort, I’m certain you’ll like this one as well.    If you haven’t, but enjoy all things dark and strange, give them both a try.  Besides, together you can get both books, 38 dark and (sometimes) disturbing tales in total, for less than $5.  That’s a deal you won’t beat in a bookstore.  Enjoy and happy reading!

Published in: on September 21, 2011 at 11:44 am  Leave a Comment  
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The America (Screws) Inventors Act

So our Congress passes a patent reform bill for the express purpose of protecting inventors and encouraging innovation but, in reality, it gives inventors far less protection from being ripped off than they already had.  When the hell did we all start living in Orwell’s 1984? War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, protecting inventors by removing protections for inventors.

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Published in: on September 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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On The Cover

image

Continuing along with preparing my new book to hit the digital shelves in the next two weeks, I put the finishing touches on the cover art.  The photo included here will be the front image of my soon to be published new collection. 

As always, feel free to tell me what you think.  Comments and criticisms are always encouraged here.  And keep watching, a release announcement complete with relevant links is coming very soon!

Published in: on September 8, 2011 at 6:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ain’t Technology Grand? Putting the finishing touches on a new book

So, of late, I’ve been plugging away on a new collection of short stories that will be released as an ebook in pretty short order, that is to say within the next couple weeks.  To that end, here is a draft of my introduction that will appear in the new effort. 

In it, I wanted to again emphasize my enthusiasm for the new framework in publishing that allows people like me to even be able to do this sort of thing, absent any support of the currently-flailing old publishing infrastructure.  That’s why I’m publishing it here early, it fits in with a common theme of mine, that the new connected world we live in has spurred a great capacity for individual efforts that no longer require yesterday’s institutions to validate our work. 

Ain’t technology grand?  I find it more and more amazing, every day, the possibilities we now possess as writers.  Even a decade ago, it would have been unthinkable for someone not independently wealthy to publish a book outside of the established publisher framework and have it seen anywhere except small local enclaves and their own bookshelves.  It wasn’t called the vanity press for nothing.  And in that name was the unfair  implication that your book didn’t deserve to be printed. The lockdown by the industry at large was so strong and all encompassing that they had gone beyond simply printing and marketing books into the realm of arbiters of our culture.  After all, if a publisher didn’t decree that your literary efforts were worthy, you were basically out of luck.  This framework, while productive for publishers, who controlled the expensive printing apparatus and dominated the retail markets with favorable contracts with the then-increasing big-box book store chains and book-of-the-month club type offerings, was extremely limiting for the actual creators.

To be certain, there were the gilded few who navigated these sheltered waters successfully, but how much quality work, how many entertaining, thought-provoking creative efforts died an unseen death because of a publisher’s arbitrary declarations of unprofitability?  That was, to me, always the fatal flaw in the old system.  How could publishers be simultaneously gatekeepers for cultural relevance and necessarily profit seeking?  These are, sometimes, common ends, but far more frequently, they can be mutually exclusive.  Profit isn’t always the first thing on a writer’s mind when they have something to say.  Often, it doesn’t cross their minds at all.  And that’s how it should be.

Writing is itself, at times, an act of creative destruction.  By that, I mean that the best writing causes the reader to question things–themselves, their beliefs and the institutions that uphold them.  Where’s the profit to be found in work that criticizes some of the very institutions you must depend on to get that work in print in the first place?  There is intellectual “profit”, as in new thoughts, new ideas, an expanded mind and point of view.  And then there is cash profit, made so by obtuse concepts of wide-scale marketability and mass-market acceptance that, in some cases, by very definition must be somewhat homogenized.  After all, too much controversy can and will hurt the bottom line.  Just ask any athlete or entertainer who has expressed a controversial opinion, however well considered, and then lost product endorsements.  As if a football player’s opinion on Osama Bin Laden has any bearing whatever on whether we, as consumers, should trust his judgment in workout attire choices.

Yet that is the way of controlling market forces that depend on mass appeal with the least possible controversy for profit’s sake alone.  The farther we get away from that kind of world, as creators, the better we will be for it.  Certainly, selling tee shirts and selling literature are vastly different exercises.  Profit motives for ideas can be somewhat self-defeating.  But the expense previously involved in bringing books to market necessitated that profit be the key element.  Not any longer.

That’s not to say that we don’t want to make money.  Many of us unquestionably do.  It’s just that the necessity to make large profits has been removed from the equation.  A book can now be written, published, marketed, sold to virtually anyone on the planet, read on any number of devices and the upfront costs to the author for doing so are virtually nil.  And, whatever the old and antiquated publishing network tells you, it works.

This book is my second collection of short stories.  In effect, it’s actually a prequel to my first as most of the work contained herein pre-dates the work in my original collection, Bad Timing, published last year.  Admittedly, my previous effort, which is available both as a print edition and an ebook, was far from a best seller.  But that doesn’t mean it was a non-seller.  I’ve sold hundreds of copies to this point, totaling a couple thousand dollars or so, and I continue to get quarterly checks from Amazon and others outlets even though I’ve done very, very little marketing, no advertising and the book itself has been out well over a year.  It’s not a fortune by any means, but it has more than compensated me for my efforts, and it’s infinitely more than I would have received from the traditional publishing world who would never have published it in the first place.

Before we decry the end of publishing and writing as a profession, as some have done, let’s consider that I, on a laptop in my living room, wrote, produced, distributed and sold a very appreciable number of copies of a book that would not have been possible before.  I added a not-insignificant amount of money to my yearly income in the process, money that didn’t come through the old way of doing things, but wholly by circumventing that route.  It won’t pay all my bills, but it certainly paid some, and far more than it would have as a rejected manuscript collecting dust in my bottom desk drawer.  So I repeat, ain’t technology grand?

As I said, much of the material here is older.  Some of the tales are my very earliest attempts at short stories.  They show a lot of the influences that drove me, and the kinds of concepts and ideas that have always interested me.  Exploring the darker side of things has always fascinated me, and while some of the works contained here are somewhat lighter than the general theme of my previous collection, they still come from a place that illustrates how the darker side of humanity can be far more fascinating.  Everyone wants to find the happy ending in their own lives but, as I’ve learned too well over the years, there are far more bad results in life than good, and it is only through knowing the bad and getting past our inherent fear of all things dark that we can truly appreciate the light when it does shine down upon us.

So, thank you for coming back.  I hope you enjoy this book and find something within that you can carry away. Lessons about how to handle life’s difficulties can sometimes be hard earned.  But the one I’ve learned well over the past few years, one illustrated by the very fact that you’re reading this right now, is that however impossible it may seem to find your way in the world, however daunting it may seem when faced with long-standing institutions blocking your path, there is always a way around those roadblocks.  Don’t be afraid of the dark; revel in it instead.  I know I do.

Keep watching this space.  My new book will be unveiled very shortly.

Published in: on September 7, 2011 at 10:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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(Hack!) Obama Administration (Hack! Hack!) Bails On Stronger (Hack!) EPA Smog Regs

Another day, another pathetic, backsliding capitulation from the Obama Administration.  This time, it’s putting off tougher smog pollution standards because, well, I’m not sure why exactly.  Maybe it’s because it might hurt his reelection campaign.  Maybe it’s a preemptive appeasement to the GOP in a sure-to-be futile effort to gain support for his jobs plan. Or maybe he’s simply a pussy.  Who the hell knows anymore?  And I’m getting to the point where I just don’t care what his excuses are. 

Do we put up monuments to the worst presidents in history?  Maybe we should start. We can put their faces on the air dryer things in bus station urinals so we can all remember which Presidents really blew.

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Poor, Poor Pitiful Me: Is Obama really this weak or slyly shrewd?

Hi, I’m the President of the United States, and given that our economy is collapsing around us and unemployment is out of control, I thought it might be a good idea to give a speech to you folks in Congress on Wednesday about what we can do to create some jobs, you know, for real people.  Whattya think?  Oh, Wednesday’s no good for you cause you’re already busy tearing me a new one on national tv that night?  But Thursday during the football game is okay?  Well, I really wanted an actual audience to hear my speech, but, hey, if Thursday’s cool with you, I’m down with that.

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